DALLAS, Texas- Norman Borlaug may not be the first name that comes to mind when discussing the most influential people of the 20th and 21st centuries, but his name is certainly near the top of the list. Nobel Peace Prize Winner and father of the “Green Revolution,” Borlaug is widely considered one of the greatest contributors to the fight against global hunger and poverty.
The idea behind Borlaug’s Green Revolution was simple: teach developing countries modern, easily implemented agricultural techniques, so they can become self-sufficient in food production. Through this basic premise, Borlaug was able to drastically improve the lives of people around the world. His efforts have helped avert malnutrition, famine and premature death for millions, perhaps billions, of people.
Born in 1914 on a farm in Iowa, Borlaug spent much of his life traveling to impoverished nations, where he advanced the teachings of the Green Revolution. Focusing on five areas of agriculture – seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization – Borlaug helped historically food-deficient countries, like Mexico and India, become self-sufficient producers.
For example, while in Mexico, Borlaug engineered wheat varieties that were both suited for the climate and resistant to the deadly “rust” fungus. The result was a 20 to 40 percent increase in crop yields and, eventually, a worldwide improvement in the production and sustainability of wheat crops.
As agricultural techniques advanced, bringing with them a new set of problems, Borlaug continued to innovate. In the 1940s, new fertilization techniques supplied crops with increased nitrogen, allowing farmers to grow larger plants. However, at the time, wheat plants were usually tall, with narrow stalks. These stalks, unable to support the weight of their larger heads, would break and fall before the grain could be harvested.
In response, Borlaug created a “semi-dwarf” wheat strain. More stubby and compact than its taller cousin, “semi-dwarf” wheat has a thick, husky stalk, able to support larger weights. And while the overall plant is smaller, the seed head is not. As a result, farmers could use nitrogen fertilization to produce larger amounts of wheat without the former risks.
The results of Borlaug’s improvements in wheat cultivation were no less than extraordinary. On the same amount of land, wheat output was tripled or quadrupled. These same techniques were later adapted and applied to other crops, such as rice – the main crop for nearly half the world’s population. Following Borlaug’s innovation, the world’s grain output rose from 672 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of farmland to 1.9 billion tons produced on 1.73 billion acres of farmland: an increase in yield per acre of over 150 percent.
Borlaug’s work has saved, and continues the save, the lives of people on a global scale. Without his contributions, millions of people might have starved or a significant portion of the remaining wilderness seized for agricultural cultivation. Norman Borlaug’s devotion to improving agricultural techniques in impoverished countries makes him one of world’s most important historical figures and a champion of global food security.
– Cavarrio Carter
Sources: New York Times, Capcon, Dissident Voice, Forbes, Nobel Prize