Norman Ernest Borlaug, a great man

The 20th century had its fair share of mass murderers: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, each can count 20 million dead on their accounts, easily. And one of their favorite tools for murder was starvation. Luckily, there was a man who would later counter those three by saving at least 100 million people from death of starvation.

Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug was born on March 25, 1914, in Iowa, as son of Norwegian immigrants. He studied during the Great Depression and developed an interest in food production. He earned a doctorate in plant pathology† and joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican hunger project. There he developed special strains of wheat that could use higher amounts of fertilizer for producing much larger amounts of grain than previously thought possible. This started the so-called green revolution, which saved many lives, especially in India, and later in many other countries of the third world.

This way, Borlaug disproved the doomsday prophecies of Paul R. Ehrlich (The Population Bomb), who claimed in 1968 that mass starvation in the 1970s and 1980s would kill many million people, especially in India; and no immediate action could prevent this. Ehrlich was proven spectacularly wrong, but this didn’t stop him from repeating his claims. Ehrlich is still a poster child for the environmental movement; Borlaug, however, was frequently attacked for destroying the environment. He countered those attacks by saying that those who accused him, were rich enough that they didn’t have to worry were their next meal came from.

Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, as one of the few people who really deserved it, in contrast to war criminals, terrorists, blowhards, and vacuous political figureheads.

Norman Borlaug died yesterday at the age of 95. He will be missed.


† Borlaug, N. E., Variation and variability of Fusarium lini. Technical Bulletin 168, University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul, Minnesota (1945).

About Daniel Tiggemann

Software-developer living in Cologne, Germany. Was once a physicist, specialized in computer simulations and parallel programming. Now more into JavaScript, web frontend development, and especially mobile computing.
This entry was posted in Food, History, Politics, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

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