Few have made the kind of difference to the world as the scientific and humanitarian contributions of Norman Borlaug, who died on Sept. 13, at the age of 95.
As the father of the "Green Revolution," Borlaug dedicated his life to advancing science and bringing monumental change to agriculture. His contributions, and the Green Revolution, has increased agricultural production such that it is recognized as having saved hundreds of millions of lives worldwide by alleviating hunger. Among his accomplishments, Borlaug's innovative plant breeding techniques developed disease-resistant wheat.
For his humanitarian efforts, Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2006.
"The passing of Dr Borlaug is truly a loss for the plant breeding industry," said Andy LaVigne, president and chief executive officer of the American Seed Trade Association. "He was the giant that all of us looked up to," Agriculture has lost an amazing person, but his soul will continue to inspire us in the seed industry."
Borlaug's contributions went far beyond his scientific accomplishments. He leveraged his international recognition to advance investment in agricultural sciences and the people needed to find solutions for the agricultural challenges that plague the world. He supported many causes that helped build scientists in developing countries, and he gained support of governments and industry toward programs and policies to advance agriculture in order to continue an abundant supply of food, feed, fiber and fuel for a growing population with fewer resources.
"Dr. Borlaug not only drove the Green Revolution, he challenged today's crop of plant breeders to rise to a new level that would benefit growers globally," said Jerry Monk, of Warner Seeds and ASTA chairman. "While he will be sorely missed, he will not be forgotten."
Born Norman Ernest Borlaug on March 24, 1914, outside of Cresco, Iowa, to Henry and Clara Borlaug, he grew up on a farm and attended a one-room school house through the eighth grade. Borlaug remained close to his roots, and was always willing to talk to aspiring students, researchers and policy makers about the tremendous impact innovation can have on agricultural production.
He attended the University of Minnesota where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1937 in forestry, later returning for his master's degree in 1940 and a doctorate in 1942 in plant genetics. In October 1944, he began his formidable work on wheat in Mexico at the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center. Borlaug crossed strains of wheat, coming up with a sturdy, short-stalked, high-yield grain. The yield gains were tremendous and improved not only the lives of Mexicans, but also had great success in Central Asia, namely India and Pakistan.
“In the death of Norman Borlaug, the world today has lost not only an eminent agriculture scientist but a man dedicated to the cause of humanity,” said Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar of India. "Father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug is credited with what he himself described as a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation. As India moves towards the second Green Revolution, his enduring vision will be a source of inspiration and sustenance for all of us.”