Borlaug, Norman

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Legacy® Advisory Board Member

(25 March 1914; † 12 September 2009) Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a central figure in the “Green Revolution”, has been credited with saving the largest number of people on earth – over one billion lives – thanks to his work as a biochemist in developing hybrid wheat and varieties of cereal grains that would produce high yields in developing countries. He is considered one of the 20th century’s ten greatest contributors to humankind.

For 27 years he collaborated with Mexican scientists on problems of wheat improvement; ten or so of those years with scientists from other parts of the world, mostly from India and Pakistan, in adapting the new wheats to new lands and in gaining acceptance for their production.

An eclectic, pragmatic, goal-oriented scientist, he embarks on searches for more fruitful and effective methods, while at the same time avoiding the pursuit of what he calls “academic butterflies”. A vigorous man who “doesn’t ask of anyone else what he is not willing to do himself” including manual labor in the fields, he brings to his work the competitive spirit of a trained athlete, which he was in his high school and college.

Dr. Borlaug was born March 25, 1914, on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, to Henry and Clara Borlaug. After completing his primary and secondary education in Cresco, Dr. Borlaug enrolled in the University of Minnesota where he studied forestry. Immediately before and immediately after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1937, he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service at stations in Massachusetts and Idaho. Returning to the University of Minnesota to study plant pathology, he received the master’s degree in 1939 and the doctorate in 1942.

From 1942 to 1944, he was a microbiologist on the staff of the Du Pont de Nemours Foundation where he was in charge of research on industrial and agricultural bactericides, fungicides, and preservatives.

In 1944 he accepted an appointment as geneticist and plant pathologist assigned the task of organizing and directing the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. This program, a joint undertaking by the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation, involved scientific research in genetics, plant breeding, plant pathology, entomology, agronomy, soil science, and cereal technology. Within twenty years he was spectacularly successful in finding a high-yielding short-strawed, disease-resistant wheat.

He soon added that of the practical humanitarian: arranging to put the new cereal strains into extensive production in order to feed the hungry people of the world – and thus providing, as he says, “a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation,” a breathing space in which to deal with the “Population Monster” and the subsequent environmental and social ills that too often lead to conflict between men and between nations.

As the Director of its International Wheat Improvement Program for the CIMMYT (cooperation between the Mexican government, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations,) he trained young scientists in research and production methods.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Borlaug has received extensive recognition from universities and organizations in numerous countries including the United States, Canada, India, Mexico, Norway and Pakistan. In 2006, he received the US Congressional Gold Award for his many contributions to resolving famine in the world.

Phil Pardey, a professor in the department of applied economics at the University of Minnesota who has worked with Borlaug, says Borlaug isn’t just a plant breeder focused on his work in the field and the lab, but a rare type of scientist who does everything in his power to get his crops to the people who need them and freely share his knowledge with the rest of the world, according to an article published by the UNM News.

In the same spirit, Dr. Borlaug donated five hours of his life stories to Legacy and serves on Legacy’s Advisory Board.

Join Legacy® in celebrating the life of Dr. Norman Borlaug:

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