The leaders of both Iowa and the nation celebrated the legend of Norman Borlaug, Iowa’s native son, at a ceremony today intended to honor the man credited with saving a billion people from starvation.
At the unveiling of a statue of Borlaug in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation praised Borlaug for the impression he and his work left on the world, which they said would inspire numerous others to seek the next breakthrough in agriculture.
“As Norman would remind us, ‘our reward for our labors is not what we take from this planet, but what we give back,’” Democratic U.S Rep. Bruce Braley said.
“Really the tribute the legacy of Norman Borlaug will be the thousands and thousands of people trying to replicate what he did, and that is the next breakthrough,” Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Latham said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley issued a similar sentiment.
“As a farmer myself I’ve seen firsthand how Dr. Borlaug’s innovations have transformed agriculture,” Grassley said. “Dr. Borlaug will continue to inspire generations of scientists and frmers to innovate and lift up those mired by poverty.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad called Borlaug a “fitting representative for the state of Iowa.”
“He was a son, a brother, a father, a grandfather, and a cousin whose legacy continues to make his family proud and we are glad to honor his family with this celebration,” Branstad said. “Dr. Borlaug was a farmer, a humanitarian, a scientist, and an educator, and his inspiration lives on in the many organizations, like the World Food Prize, that honor those who feed a growing world population.”
Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009) was an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution”, “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson” and “The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives”. He is one of seven people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal and was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor.
Borlaug received his B.Sc. Biology 1937 and Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.
During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.
Later in his life, he helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa.
Borlaug continually advocated increasing crop yields as a means to curb deforestation. The large role he played in both increasing crop yields and promoting this view has led to this methodology being called by agricultural economists the “Borlaug hypothesis”, namely that increasing the productivity of agriculture on the best farmland can help control deforestation by reducing the demand for new farmland. According to this view, assuming that global food demand is on the rise, restricting crop usage to traditional low-yield methods would also require at least one of the following: the world population to decrease, either voluntarily or as a result of mass starvations; or the conversion of forest land into crop land. It is thus argued that high-yield techniques are ultimately saving ecosystems from destruction.
Borlaug’s name is nearly synonymous with the Green Revolution, against which many criticisms have been mounted over the decades by environmentalists and some nutritionalists. Throughout his years of research, Borlaug’s programs often faced opposition by people who consider genetic crossbreeding to be unnatural or to have negative effects. Borlaug’s work has been criticized for bringing large-scale monoculture, input-intensive farming techniques to countries that had previously relied on subsistence farming. These farming techniques reap large profits for U.S. agribusiness and agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto Company and have been criticized for widening social inequality in the countries owing to uneven food distribution while forcing a capitalist agenda of U.S. corporations onto countries that had undergone land reform.
Other concerns of his critics and critics of biotechnology in general include: that the construction of roads in populated third-world areas could lead to the destruction of wilderness; the crossing of genetic barriers; the inability of crops to fulfill all nutritional requirements; the decreased biodiversity from planting a small number of varieties; the environmental and economic effects of inorganic fertilizer and pesticides; the amount of herbicide sprayed on fields of herbicide-resistant crops.
Borlaug dismissed most claims of critics, but did take certain concerns seriously. He stated that his work has been “a change in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into a Utopia”. Of environmental lobbyists he stated, “some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”.