Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Green Founder

This article from the Wall Street Journal is a richer tribute than the one I noted a couple days ago about the man who founded the Green Revolution and was frantically resisted by environmentalists for his use of agricultural technology to help the poor of the world grow enough food to sustain their families.

Norman Borlaug is a wonderful testament to the truth that human intelligence can—if allowed to—successfully address virtually all of the problems connected to a limited base of natural resources.

An excerpt.

“Norman Borlaug arguably the greatest American of the 20th century died late Saturday after 95 richly accomplished years. The very personification of human goodness, Borlaug saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived. He was America's Albert Schweitzer: a brilliant man who forsook privilege and riches in order to help the dispossessed of distant lands. That this great man and benefactor to humanity died little-known in his own country speaks volumes about the superficiality of modern American culture.

“Born in 1914 in rural Cresco, Iowa, where he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-1960s. He spent most of his life in impoverished nations, patiently teaching poor farmers in India, Mexico, South America, Africa and elsewhere the Green Revolution agricultural techniques that have prevented the global famines widely predicted when the world population began to skyrocket following World War II.

“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.

“As a young agronomist, Borlaug helped develop some of the principles of Green Revolution agriculture on which the world now relies including hybrid crops selectively bred for vigor, and "shuttle breeding," a technique for accelerating the movement of disease immunity between strains of crops. He also helped develop cereals that were insensitive to the number of hours of light in a day, and could therefore be grown in many climates.

“Green Revolution techniques caused both reliable harvests, and spectacular output. 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.

“Hoping to spread high-yield agriculture to the world's poor, in 1943 Borlaug moved to rural Mexico to establish an agricultural research station, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Borlaug's little research station became the International Maize and Wheat Center, known by its Spanish abbreviation CIMMYT, that is now one of the globe's most important agricultural study facilities. 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.

“In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century.”