Thursday, September 17, 2009
Unsung Hero of the Green Revolution
He may have saved up to a billion lives but it is doubtful if you would recognize the name. His name was Norman Borlaug and he died last week at the age of 95.
Greg Easterbrook writes a compelling tribute in the WSJ-- suggesting that he was possibly the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century. We don't have to deal in the ultimately meaningless game of superlatives to recognize that he was a truly remarkable individual;
"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."
He invented in essence "high yield agriculture"--and his contributions according to Easterbrook can be measured in these terms:
"First, absent high-yield agriculture, the world would by now be deforested. The 1950 global grain output of 692 million tons and the 2006 output of 2.3 billion tons came from about the same number of acres three times as much food using little additional land. "Without high-yield agriculture," Borlaug said, "increases in food output would have been realized through drastic expansion of acres under cultivation, losses of pristine land a hundred times greater than all losses to urban and suburban expansion."
Easterbook has the credentials to counter what has been considerable environmentalist criticism which he argues,
"was doubly puzzling because in almost every developing nation where high-yield agriculture has been introduced, population growth has slowed as education becomes more important to family success than muscle power."
Let the debate be joined on that one--but let it also be informed by the facts that Easterbrook presents in such a persuasive fashion.