A lifelong commitment to ending starvation
Have you ever had one of those "what if" moments, when a seemingly insignificant decision on your part led to profound change in your life and the lives of those around you? For Norman Borlaug, an Iowa farm boy who enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1933, that moment occurred when he decided to attend a lecture titled "These Shifty Little Enemies That Destroy Our Food Crops." A forestry major, Borlaug shifted his studies to plant pathology, receiving a PhD in the field from the university in 1942.
Borlaug's change in focus changed the fates of millions of hungry people throughout the world, leading to his oft-repeated designation as "the father of the green revolution." He and his colleagues introduced three key innovations--wheat varieties resistant to rust, a destructive pest; dwarf wheat varieties that didn't fall over, even when fertilized to achieve maximum yields; and a technique called "shuttle breeding," which allowed a region's farmers to grow two successive plantings in a single year. What does all this mean in practical terms? From 1950 to 1992, a 150 percent increase in the world's grain output. Borlaug first proved his theories in Mexico, but it was his work in India, where the wheat yield nearly doubled from 1965 to 1970, and in Pakistan, which was self-sufficient in wheat production by 1968, that led to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Scientific advances are one thing. Convincing others to embrace them is another. As Borlaug once put it, "You can't eat potential." He was--and remains--tireless in his efforts to change the thinking of decision makers throughout the world. "Behind the outstanding results in the sphere of wheat research of which the dry statistics speak, we sense the presence of a dynamic, indomitable, and refreshingly unconventional research," said Mrs. Aase Lionaes, chair of the Nobel Committee, in her 1970 presentation speech. "Dr. Borlaug is not only a man of ideals but essentially a man of action. Reading his publications on the green revolution, one realizes that he is fighting not only weeds and rust fungus but just as much the deadly procrastination of the bureaucrats and the red tape that thwart quick action. The following warning reminds us of this: 'a strangulation of the world by exploding, well-camouflaged bureaucracies is one of the great threats to mankind.'"
Borlaug's ties to Minnesota run deep--he was a varsity wrestler for the University of Minnesota and met his future wife in a Dinkytown coffee shop where they both worked. Borlaug Hall, the largest building on the university's St. Paul campus, is named for him, and, in 2006, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty declared September 16 Norman Borlaug Day in Minnesota.
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