About Dr. Norman E. Borlaug
For more than half a century I have worked with the production of more and better wheat for feeding the hungry people, but wheat is merely a catalyst, a part of the picture. I am interested in the total development of human beings. Only by attacking the whole problem can we raise the standard of living for all people in all communities, so that they will be able to live decent lives. This is something we want for all people on this planet.
- Norman Borlaug (1914-2009)
Through his scientific and humanitarian achievements, Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug (1914-2009) has been credited with saving millions of people from starvation in third world countries. His collaborative work with scientists in Mexico on a high-yielding, disease resistant dwarf wheat sparked the Green Revolution of the 1960s. Borlaug's distinguished career epitomized the qualities of leadership, scholarship, scientific achievement, international cooperation, mentoring, and passion. In 2005, with Dr. Borlaug's guidance, USAID joined USDA, Texas A&M University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the University of California, Davis to create the Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP).
Biographical Sketch of Norman E. Borlaug
Dr. Borlaug was born in Iowa in 1914. At the age of 56, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime work to feed a hungry world, a prerequisite for peace. He was credited with saving more lives than any person who has ever lived. Although a scientist with outstanding contributions, perhaps Dr. Borlaug's greatest achievement was his unending struggle to integrate the various streams of agricultural research into viable technologies and to bring agricultural research advances to fruition in farmers' fields.
Born and raised in Cresco, a small farming community in northeast Iowa, Borlaug was of Norwegian descent. He learned his work ethic on a small mixed crop and livestock family farm and obtained his initial education in a one-room rural school house.
His skill as an athlete, mainly in wrestling, opened the path for him to attend the University of Minnesota, where he studied to be a forester, wrestled, and worked various odd jobs. After graduation with a Bachelor of Science. in 1937, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, initially in Idaho and later in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He returned to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, and took up the study of plant pathology, receiving his Ph.D. in 1942. He then worked as a Microbiologist for E.I. Dupont de Nemours, until being released from his wartime service.
In 1944, he joined the Rockefeller Foundation's pioneering technical assistance program in Mexico, where he was research scientist in charge of wheat improvement. For the next 16 years, he worked to solve a series of wheat production problems that were limiting wheat cultivation in Mexico and to help train a whole generation of young Mexico scientists.
The work in Mexico not only had a profound impact on Borlaug's life and philosophy of agricultural research and development, but also on agricultural production, first in Mexico and later in many parts of the world.
It was on the research stations and farmers' fields of Mexico that Borlaug developed successive generations of wheat varieties with broad and stable disease resistance, broad adaptation to growing conditions across many degrees of latitude, and with exceedingly high yield potential. These wheats and improved crop management practices transformed agricultural production in Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s and later in Asia and Latin America, sparking what today is known as the "Green Revolution."
By the mid-1960s, Dr. Borlaug was taking his high-yielding "Mexican" wheats and crop management technology to Asia, first to Pakistan and India, then Australia, indeed anywhere that spring-habit wheats were grown. The impact has been spectacular. Over the past 50 years, wheat production in India has increased from 12 to 76 million metric tons; in Pakistan, from 4.5 to 21 million metric tons; and in the world, from 300 to 600 million metric tons.
The high-yielding wheat varieties that Norman Borlaug and his many scientific colleagues developed are today grown on more than 75 million hectares (187 million acres) throughout the world and may well be responsible for saving tens of millions of people from starvation.
Dr. Borlaug always considered himself to be a teacher, as well as a scientist. Today, several thousand men and women agricultural scientists from more than 50 countries are proud to say they were "students" of Norman Borlaug. Not only was he a builder of individuals but he was also a builder of institutions dedicated to the service of humankind.
With the establishment of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico in 1966, Dr. Borlaug assumed leadership of the Wheat Program, a position he held until his "official" retirement in 1979; but where he continued to serve as a senior consultant until his death on September 12, 2009. From 1984 to 2009, Dr. Borlaug was a Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A & M University, where he taught one semester each year.
In 1986, at the age of 72, Dr. Borlaug became the President of the Sasakawa Africa Association, and leader of Sasakawa-Global 2000 agricultural program in sub-Saharan Africa, along with former U.S. President Jimmy Carte. The program has worked with several million farmers in 15 countries of sub -Saharan Africa to increase food production. Until his death in 2009, Dr. Borlaug continued to strive for a "green revolution" in Africa.
Dr. Borlaug was the driving force behind the establishment of the World Food Prize in 1985, which is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding human achievements in the fields of food production and nutrition, and served as Chairman of its Council of Advisors until his passing.
Dr. Borlaug has been honored by scores of governments, universities, scientific associations, farmer groups, and civic associations. He held 50 honorary doctorate degrees and belonged to the academies of science in 12 nations. He served on two U.S. Presidential Commissions: on World Hunger (1978-79) and on Science and Technology (1990-92). He is also a member of the U.S. Wrestling Hall of Fame.
In 2006, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor, becoming one of only five individuals to receive the Nobel Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Norman Borlaug died of lymphoma at the age of 95 on September 12, 2009. A memorial site celebrating the life of Dr. Borlaug highlights the impact his life had on individuals, students and leaders worldwide.