Saturday, January 14, 2012

Borlaug: We Need to Remember What Greatness Really Is!

By Rich Kozlovich

This is a compilation of work by a number of authors. Please follow the links to see the originals. RK


“Today, famines—whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur or North Korea—are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.”

Once again; tonight, drink a toast to one of the great benefactors of the poorest people in the world, Borlaug the Great. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution died at age 95. Ron Bailey calls him “the man who saved more human lives than anyone else in history.”
By saving millions of people from starvation, green-revolution father Norman Borlaug arguably has done more for humanity than has any other human being of the past century (”Norman Borlaug, 95, Dies; Led Green Revolution,” Sept. 13). Yet unlike Sen. Kennedy’s, his death will go relatively unnoticed. He’ll certainly not be canonized in the popular mind. Don Boudreaux
Just think of the people who have gone down in history as “the Great“: Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Charles the Great (Charlemagne), Frederick the Great, Peter the Great — despots and warmongers. Just once it would be nice to see the actual benefactors of humanity designated as “the Great”: Galileo the Great, Gutenberg the Great, Samuel Morse the Great, Alan Turing the Great.

On the day Norman Borlaug was awarded its Peace Prize for 1970, the Nobel Committee observed of the Iowa-born plant scientist that "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world." The committee might have added that more than any other single person Borlaug showed that nature is no match for human ingenuity in setting the real limits to growth. Borlaug, who died Saturday at 95, came of age in the Great Depression, the last period of widespread hunger in U.S. history. The Depression was over by the time Borlaug began his famous experiments, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with wheat varieties in Mexico in the 1940s. But the specter of global starvation loomed even larger, as advances in medicine and hygiene contributed to population growth without corresponding increases in the means of feeding so many. Borlaug solved that challenge by developing genetically unique strains of "semidwarf" wheat, and later rice that raised food yields as much as six fold. The result was that a country like India was able to feed its own people as its population grew from 500 million in the mid-1960s, when Borlaug's "Green Revolution" began to take effect, to the current 1.16 billion. Today, famines—whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur or North Korea—are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.

While rice is normally thought of as the grain of the far east, wheat is also a major grain product. “Around the time Dr Borlaug arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s, the specter of famine, shortages, and starvation hung over the sub-continent. India was importing huge quantities of food grains from the US…to feed its growing millions in a manner that was famously described as "ship-to-mouth" sustenance. Enter Norman Borlaug, a strapping, self-made, sun-burnt American from the farmland of Iowa, who had spent more a decade by then in Mexico after hard-earned doctorate in Depression-era US. What he had pulled off in experiments in Mexico was a miracle, that if successfully applied in India, would fill its granaries to overflow - as it eventually did. By cranking up a wheat strain containing an unusual gene, Borlaug created the so-called ''semi-dwarf'' plant variety -- a shorter, stubbier, compact stalk that supported an enormous head of grain without falling over from the weight. This curious principle of shrinking the plant to increase the output on the plant from the same acreage resulted in Indian farmers eventually quadrupling their wheat -- and later, rice -- production. It heralded the Green Revolution.” Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Program, [said] "His total devotion to ending famine and hunger revolutionized food security for millions of people and for many nations."

Dr. Borlaug’s advances in plant breeding led to spectacular success in increasing food production in Latin America and Asia and brought him international acclaim. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was widely described as the father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution, though decidedly reluctant to accept the title. “A miserable term,” he said, characteristically shrugging off any air of self-importance. Yet his work had a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of people in developing countries. His breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history. Largely because of his work, countries that had been food deficient, like Mexico and India, became self-sufficient in producing cereal grains. “More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world…..Dr. Borlaug, vigorous and slender at 56, was working in a wheat field outside Mexico City when his wife, Margaret, drove up to tell him the news. “Someone’s pulling your leg,” he replied, according to one of his biographers, Leon Hesser. Assured that it was true, he kept on working, saying he would celebrate later.

Borlaug ….recognized the vital importance of new technologies to increase agricultural yields and feed the world - millions of people are alive today thanks to his work, which amounted to a practical and courageous challenge to the Malthusian doomsayers. As a great scientist Borlaug also defended DDT for malaria control - and we salute him.

Ronnie Coffman of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) notes that "we have a lot of complaints about the green revolution, but those who complain have little awareness of the alternatives ... because stem rust is a global disease, it's not a national disease. We have to hang together on this thing or we will all hang separately, because you cannot defend yourself alone." "Coffman met a frail Borlaug, and this humble American hero gave a last, stark warning: "Don't relax. Rust never sleeps."

During the 1960’s and 70’s people like Paul Ehrlich and Obama’s Science Czar, John Holdren, made” apocalyptic forecasts of global famine”, which like so much greenie scare mongering proved to be “dramatically wrong”.

“In the 40 years from 1963, the world population doubled, and the number of chronically malnourished people (essentially a problem of poverty and infrastructure rather than overall food availability) hardly changed. Over 3 billion more people were fed from essentially the same total area of farmland.”

The green movement claims that the undeveloped world should not make the same “mistakes” the develop world make. Apparently they feel that feeding their people was a mistake! Fix starvation first and then everything else can be looked at. “Norman Borlaug did not want to deny developing countries the opportunity to do the same, and neither should we.”

“Borlaug was well aware that if we are to protect our planet's biodiversity, while also feeding its increasing number of human residents, it will be impossible to bring more land under cultivation. We need every tool available to us to make the land that is already farmed more productive -- including, as Borlaug put it, "proper use of genetic engineering and biotechnology". According to Borlaug, “agriculture is by its nature an unnatural practice, and its goal has always been to create plentiful crops that "no-one eats but us". We manage farmland in such a way as to minimize loss to weeds, birds and insects, while seeking to improve its yields with manure, artificial fertilizer and irrigation. GM crops create an opportunity to take that process a stage further, so that our species is increasingly the only one that eats the crops we sow in our fields.”

"He was a bright, affirming flame in the midst of a sea of despair then prevailing." This was how M.S. Swaminathan described Norman Borlaug, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, who died in Dallas on Saturday night. "He was a man of extraordinary humanism, commitment to a hunger-free world and knew no nationality. He is the only person to have so far won a Nobel for agriculture." Norman Borlaug's association with India began in the late 1960s. India was then importing 10 million tonnes of wheat and "we lived a ship-to-mouth" existence. The introduction of the dwarf variety of wheat developed by him in Mexico was a turning point in India's food production pattern.

For all the links please go the Borlaug the Great!


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