Who has heard of Norman Borlaug? I had not heard of him until now, after his death, when the Wall Street Journal calls him "arguably the greatest American of the 20th century".Borlaug's life work, the Green Revolution, is the reason the world is not starving today as it was half a century ago. As the individual responsible for spreading high-yield agricultural practices through the hungriest parts of the world, beginning with South Asia in the 1960s, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2006. He changed the world, as much as did Louis Pasteur or the Wright Brothers, yet his name is commonly unknown outside the Developing World. And his contribution is today seen as controversial.
He is eulogized today in the Wall Street Journal:
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.
After his triumph in India and Pakistan and his Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug turned to raising crop yields in other poor nations especially in Africa, the one place in the world where population is rising faster than farm production and the last outpost of subsistence agriculture. At that point, 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. Borlaug told me a decade ago that most Western environmentalists "have 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 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things."