Norman Borlaug was born 100 years ago today

by on March 25, 2014 at 12:02 am in Food and Drink, History, Science | Permalink

In case you didn’t know.

1 YetAnotherTom March 25, 2014 at 1:32 am

I think we should replace Columbus Day with Norman Borlaug day. He’s the type of person who deserves that kind of status.

2 Rahul March 25, 2014 at 2:49 am

The nation that really needs a Norman Borlaug day is India. Well, gratitude was never our forte.

3 Larry Siegel March 26, 2014 at 9:24 pm

India already has the technology, already developed by Norman Borlaug, to grow as much food as they can consume and then some. What they need is institutions conducive to capital investment in agriculture; better educated farmers; infrastructure; and some other things that an agriculture economist would think of but I can’t.

4 Ray Lopez March 25, 2014 at 4:40 am

You mean you are in favor on increasing populations that do nothing but despoil the environment and ape the leading edge western countries with ‘dumb GDP’ type growth, ala China, India, Brazil, etc? Sounds good to me, but only if we adopt a stronger form of IP protection for said leading edge western countries. To each their own pet peeve.

From Borlaug’s Economist obit: “Greens attacked him, saying his new varieties used too much water and costly chemical fertiliser; his link with DuPont was noted. They complained that traditional farming was disrupted and diversity replaced by monoculture. Mr Borlaug called them naysayers and elitists, who had never known hunger but thought, for the health of the planet, that the poor should go without good food.”

5 Rahul March 25, 2014 at 5:17 am

“traditional farming was disrupted”, yes. So were famines & starvation for millions. Traditional does not always mean better.

6 Ray Lopez March 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Do you really think that humans that do nothing but reproduce and consume resources are worthy of having around? We have too many people as it is, and they are not really producing anything of value, unless you argue that producing more people is a virtue, on the off chance that one of them might be the next Einstein. But that presupposes that we can feed and educate 9B people to western leading edge standards, which so far we’ve proven we cannot.

7 mofo. March 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

Cant tell if you’re joking or stupid.

8 Axa March 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

Add Mexico to the list of countries saved from famine.

Any criticism for the Green Revolution has to be screened for hindsight bias since it happened in the 50s and 60s. It’s real easy to say from 2014 Borlaug was incompetent for not foreseeing the effects or excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in agriculture. It’s a real problem, surface and groundwater sources can be polluted. However, who in the 50s knew about this specific backfire of the technology transfer that avoided a lot of famines?

The misuse of the technology that causes pollution and population increase are responsibility of local people. For once, stop blaming the white man of everything.

Ps. Borlaug statue in Delhi

9 Rahul March 25, 2014 at 9:42 am


Even if Borlaug perfectly had known about those effects, saving the lives of the dying millions was a more immediate problem. I suspect in most moral calculus that need would triumph.

10 Ed March 26, 2014 at 10:38 am

I think planners in the 1950s and 1960s greatly overestimated the amount of fossil fuel resources available to support growth, and underestimated the environmental effects. This is understandable, though they should have understood that more intensive extraction of resources (eg more food) should have led to the worldwise population boom that actually happen.

The real problem has been all the people after the 1970s, up to the present day judging from the comments in this site, who continued to insist that resources are inexhaustable.

11 J1 March 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Maybe his greatest accomplishment was exposing the murderous racism of the environmental movement.

12 Larry Siegel March 26, 2014 at 9:26 pm

That and feeding the hungry.

13 Bob March 25, 2014 at 2:38 am

I liked this obituary for Norman in The Economist

14 Mason March 25, 2014 at 8:30 am

See the problem was wheat is top-heavy. It was falling over on itself and it took up too much space. The dwarf wheat… guys, it was an agricultural revolution that was credited with saving one billion lives.
~Jed B.

15 FredR March 25, 2014 at 9:44 am

Talking about Borlaug being under-appreciated is so 2009.

16 MG March 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

This is a guy whose life work, many claim, actually helped save more lives than almost any human that ever lived. Yet, he does not appear to get a Google doodle celebration? (If I am wrong, please let me know.) A quick scan of the last few months worth of celebrants appears to me to fall way short of this standard — although meeting numerous other idelological ones…

17 vimspot March 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I had sent a proposal to google but no dice… I suspect google thought it would be too controversial because of all the hippies who would have rather had hundreds of millions of people die than eat GMO food.

I myself do eat organic (mostly to avoid pesticides) but don’t understand how anyone could dispute the greatness of Norman Borlaug.

Perhaps you could argue that people would have had fewer children without green revolution? But I don’t know if that’s how child protection and poverty works. There seems to be an inverse correlation between resources (food, money) and children.

18 J1 March 25, 2014 at 9:26 pm

If you’re eating organic to avoid pesticides, you can stop wasting your money; they use pesticides on organics too, and they’re just as toxic as the synthetic stuff.

19 Rahul March 26, 2014 at 3:01 am

Organic pesticides?

20 J1 March 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Yes. And a correction: “just as toxic” should be “just as, and possibly more toxic”.

Organic food is a vanity product for consumers with disposable income, not a healthier, safer alternative.

21 TheRadicalModerate March 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I’d vote for Borlaug as the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century. But by the same token, I’d want Rachel Carson on the ballot with Stalin and Hitler for villain of the century.

22 John Galt III March 27, 2014 at 9:27 am

You nailed it.

23 Ann K March 25, 2014 at 8:07 pm

He was a generous and humble man, teaching and mentoring students at Texas A&M until the very end, when he was in his nineties. He never got complacent. After all, “wheat rust never sleeps.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: