Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Man Who Diffused the Population Bomb

Solve world hunger,  check.

OK so there are still hungry people in the world. But the statistics in this story about Norman Borlaug (whom I have never heard of before now either) would be completely unbelievable, pure fantasy, utopic if it weren't for the stubborn fact that they are true.

Doing some reckoning with those statistics

In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug's efforts combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations saved the lives of one billion human beings.
Saved a billion human beings!
Saved a billion human beings! with science.
At CIMMYT, Borlaug developed the high-yield, low-pesticide "dwarf" wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world's population now depends for sustenance.  ...
From the Civil War through the Dust Bowl, the typical American farm produced about 24 bushels of corn per acre; by 2006, the figure was about 155 bushels per acre.

Saved a billion human beings! with science and personal sacrifice.

Hoping to spread high-yield agriculture to the world's poor, in 1943 Borlaug moved to rural Mexico to establish an agricultural research station ...
In the mid-1960s, India and Pakistan were exceptions to the trend toward more efficient food production; subsistence cultivation of rice remained the rule, and famine struck. In 1965, Borlaug arranged for a convoy of 35 trucks to carry high-yield seeds from CIMMYT to a Los Angeles dock for shipment to India and Pakistan. He and a coterie of Mexican assistants accompanied the seeds. They arrived to discover that war had broken out between the two nations. Sometimes working within sight of artillery flashes, Borlaug and his assistants sowed the Subcontinent's first crop of high-yield grain
          .... Africa ....
"...If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be..."
Saved a billion human beings! with science and personal sacrifice and in the face of criticism

Borlaug became the target of critics who denounced him because Green Revolution farming requires some pesticide and lots of fertilizer. Trendy environmentalism was catching on, and affluent environmentalists began to say it was "inappropriate" for Africans to have tractors or use modern farming techniques

             and even of "scientists"
Paul Ehrlich gained celebrity for his 1968 book "The Population Bomb," in which he claimed that global starvation was inevitable for the 1970s and it was "a fantasy" that India would "ever" feed itself. Instead, within three years of Borlaug's arrival, Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production; within six years, India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals.

Saved a billion human beings!    The nobel prize is as a wheat chaff beside that.

Great scientist! A Norwegian Luthern farmer. While he certainly didn't do this alone it seems fair to say that it wouldn't have happened without his effort.

Thanks Borlaug. Thanks for the food, the science, the lives, the work, the example and the hope.

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