July 24, 2007
BORLAUG VS. THE BORG:
The Most Important Person You’ve Never Heard Of (Pejman Yousefzadeh, July 24, 2007, American)
Last week, Dr. Norman Borlaug won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He wasn’t broadly famous, so the well deserved award was a quiet event by modern standards. But it’s still a shame that the award ceremony didn’t get more publicity, because Norman Borlaug has saved more lives than any person currently living. Indeed, he may have saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived.
Shocked and changed by the scenes of starvation he witnessed as a young man working in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, Dr. Borlaug devoted himself early in his life to the task of ending hunger. As a research scientist in Mexico in the 1940s, Dr. Borlaug used his expertise in plant pathology and genetics to develop varieties of wheat that were both high-yield and resistant to diseases. These new strains of wheat were introduced to developing countries along with modern production and farming techniques. Thanks to these innovations, Mexico became a net wheat exporter in the early 1960s. Over that decade, both Pakistan and India saw their wheat crop double, and they became self-sufficient wheat producers by 1968 and 1974 respectively. Because the wheat crops Dr. Borlaug cultivated have shorter and stronger stalks (“semi-dwarf”), they are able to prosper even in environments where the soil is poor and where longer stalks would wilt under the weight of extra grain. Dr. Borlaug’s contributions have been credited with saving the lives of over 1 billion people and are the key ingredient in what is popularly known as the “Green Revolution.” His work won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
The Green Revolution helped avert the Malthusian vision of people like Paul Ehrlich, who famously predicted the onset of mass starvation and famine during the 1970s and 1980s (Ehrlich famously lost a bet on this score with Julian Simon). Dr. Borlaug’s methods are now at work in Asia and Africa, and if they meet with the same success that they did in Mexico, India and Pakistan, starvation and famine in these places will be made much rarer, if not wiped out altogether.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
His enemies were hoping for the Soylent Green Revolution. Posted by Orrin Judd at July 24, 2007 9:05 PM