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Published on July 11th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Norman Borlaug: The Man Who Saved One Billion People


He was a man that changed the world. While most people try to make a difference, the impact that they create is often very hard to quantify – one cannot say the same thing about Norman Borlaug.

A Human Variety

There have been people who have influenced the world negatively, one doesn’t need to be reminded of the tragedies of the two World Wars or the regular humanitarian disasters that occur every few years. In the twentieth century we generally point to the actions of John F. Kennedy and how he saved the world from entering a nuclear Armageddon. Nonetheless, we still cannot say for certain if the U.S.S.R. would have started a war with the United States.

No, there is but one man who we can be sure about and that is Norman Borlaug. Borlaug’s work has saved a conservatively estimated one billion people. So far in the history of humanity no other single individual has even come close to this number.

Work With Wheat

Borlaug began to make a name for himself as a microbiologist in the 1940’s. It was in this profession that he would become au fait with preservatives, fungicides and bactericides. The firm foundations in these subjects would later come in the very useful for his subsequent work. In 1944, Borlaug would go to Mexico to work in the field of genetics and phytopathology (the study of plant diseases).


While in Mexico, Borlaug developed wheat that was both disease-resistant and produced high crop yields. Perhaps the pinnacle of his success in Mexico was recognising that tall varieties of wheat could not support their own weight when they reached a certain height. To overcome this problem, Borlaug developed a dwarf variety that was free of the problems of their taller kind.

From Mexico To The World

As a stroke of good fortune, Borlaug’s new variety was extremely adaptable and could be grown in virtually any type of latitude, and at varying altitudes.

He took his work to Africa, India, Pakistan, South America, and the Middle East. These regions were on the brink of starvation before Borlaug commenced his work. He, and his teams, succeeded in dramatically increasing yields and alleviating hunger. His work has also transferred to rice crops where yields and disease-resistance has helped agriculture become more efficient.

Wheat Yields

A Lasting Legacy

Borlaug was honoured for his achievements by being the recipent of the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The increases Borlaug achieved in crop production is widely thought to have saved the lives of over one billion people.

The problems with feeding an ever-increasing world population is apparent to all who understand the situation. As the world’s population nears seven billion – it will become more and more difficult to feed everyone. At some point, if this growth rate continues, even with all of the technological advances created by agricultural scientists and geneticists, we will not be able to feed the entire population.

The Most Pressing Danger To Our Food Supply

Currently, one of the greatest concerns to the future production of food is the organic industry and their over-zealous proponents. Rationality is the poor first cousin of emotion, it doesn’t matter how much scientific evidence is put forward – it can be easily swayed by a well-timed emotive argument.

This is one of the keys to the organics movement. There is no scientific evidence that states that organic food is superior to non-organic produce under any criteria.

On the contrary, if the organic industry were to be adopted world-wide – the consequences would be devastating. One-third of the world’s population would die from starvation. Organically-grown food is just too resource-intensive to make sense.

Already propaganda, spread from anti-genetically modified food groups and some extremists within Greenpeace, has resulted in some African nations rejecting crops which would prevent starvation. Disinformation is a powerful weapon but through Borlaug’s work – the success of genetically modified food is there for anyone willing to look.

There is nothing wrong with organic food per se – but it should be confined to a small niche market as it is simply too resource-intensive with no scientific benefits over non-organic food.

Check out Yellow Magpie’s Norman Borlaug Quotes: Words From The Man Who Saved A Billion to see what the man had to say about starvation, the developing world and the importance of food.

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