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Borlaug,Norman E. (1914 – ) American Environmental Activist

Norman E. Borlaug (1914 )
American environmental activist

Borlaug, known as the father of the "green revolution" or agricultural revolution , was born on March 25, 1914, on a small farm near Cresco, Iowa. He received a B.S. in forestry in 1937 followed by a master's degree in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1941 in plant pathology all from the University of Minnesota.

Agriculture is an activity of humans with profound impact on the environment . Traditional cereal grain production methods in some countries have led to recurrent famine . Food in these countries can be increased either by expansion of land area under cultivation or by enhancement of crop yield per unit of land. In many developing countries, little if any space for agricultural expansion remains, hence interest is focused on increasing cereal grain yield. This is especially true with regard to wheat, rice, and maize.

Borlaug is associated with the green revolution which was responsible for spectacular increases in grain production. He began working in Mexico in 1943 with the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in an effort to increase food crop production. As a result of these efforts, wheat production doubled in the decade after World War II, and nations such as Mexico, India, and Pakistan became exporters of grain rather than importers. Increased yields of wheat came as the result of high genetic yield potential, enhanced disease resistance (Mexican wheat was vulnerable to stem rust fungus), responsiveness to fertilizers, the use of pesticides, and the development of dwarf varieties with stiff straw and short blades that resist lodging, i.e., do not grow tall and topple over with the use of fertilizer . Further, the new varieties could be used in different parts of the world because they were unaffected by different daylight periods. Mechanized threshing is now replacing the traditional treading out of grain with large animals followed by winnowing because these procedures are slow and leave the grain harvest vulnerable to rain damage. Thus, modern threshers are an essential part of the green revolution.

Borlaug demonstrated that the famine so characteristic of many developing countries could be controlled or eliminated at least with respect to the population of the world at that time. However, respite from famine and poverty is only temporary as the world population relentlessly continues to increase. The sociological and economic conditions which have historically precipitated famine have not been abrogated. Thus, famine will appear again if human population expansion continues unabated despite efforts of the green revolution. Further, critics of Borlaug's agricultural revolution cite the possibility of crop vulnerability because of genetic uniformitydevelopment of crops with high-yield potential have eliminated other varieties, thus limiting biodiversity . High-yield crops have not proven themselves hardier in several cases; some varieties are more vulnerable to molds and storage problems. In the meantime, other, hardier varieties are now nonexistent. The environmental effects of fertilizers, pesticides, and energy-dependent mechanized modes of cultivation to sustain the newly developed crops have also provoked controversy. Such methods are expensive for poorer countries and sometimes create more problems than they solve. For now, however, food from the green revolution saves lives and the benefits currently outweigh liabilities.

At the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Borlaug in 1970, the president of Norway's Lating honored him, saying "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world." His alma mater, the University of Minnesota, celebrated his career accomplishments with the award of a Doctor of Science (honoris causa ) degree in 1984, as have many other academic institutions throughout a grateful world.

In 1992, the Agricultural Council of Experts (ACE) was formed to advise Borlaug and former President Jimmy Carter on information concerning Africa's agricultural and economic issues. They created a model that has since been incorporated into the Global 2000 program, which addresses the African food crisis by experimenting with production test plots (PTPs) in an attempt to extract greater crop yields.

[Robert G. McKinnell ]



Wilkes, H. Garrison. "The Green Revolution." In McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Food, Agriculture & Nutrition, edited by D. N. Lapedes. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977.


Transcript of Proceedings for the Nobel Prize for Peace, 1970 (Speech by Ms. Aase Lionaes, President of the Lagting, December 11, 1970 and Lecture by Norman E. Borlaug on the Occasion of the Award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1970, Oslo, Norway, December 11, 1970).

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