The passing of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution,” at the age of 95 should be cause for reflection by everyone involved in food production. Among his many honors Dr. Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 and distinctions from many nations of the world.
Born in Iowa, he devoted his entire life to plant genetics initially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1944 he organized and directed the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico by applying his knowledge of plant genetics and pathology. He was able to materially improve wheat yields, effectively making vast areas of the world self-sufficient in wheat and other food crops. Not only was he a scientist but he served as a spokesperson to propagate ideas which contributed to the alleviation of hunger and suffering through averting large-scale famines.
It is important to remember that his achievements resulted from the application of newly-developed genetic technology. He advocated intensive farming with appropriate use of resources to achieve maximum yields. This approach should be contrasted to the impractical and retrograde policies advocated by current opponents of organized agriculture who eschew genetic engineering, the use of highly efficient pesticides and fertilizers and national and regional agricultural initiatives.
It is extremely easy to promote “back to nature” pre-industrial revolution subsistence agriculture when one has purchased all the calories and protein required at a Whole Foods store. The reality is otherwise. There are now over 6 billion mouths to feed with prospects for continued population growth especially in Asia. Opponents of GMO crops cannot advance any scientific data to support their contentions and simply rely on inherent prejudice and fear to obstruct progress. This is decidedly counterproductive and over the long term will be detrimental to those who would most profit by advances in food production technology.
The family of Norman Borlaug issued a statement through Texas A&M University where he served as the Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture that “his life should be a model for making a difference in the lives of others and to bring about efforts to end human misery for all mankind.” The “Green Revolution” of the 1970s should be amplified by new initiatives to develop and apply advanced molecular biology to enhance yields and quality in both crop and livestock agriculture. Unfounded opposition to biotechnology is parochial, selfish, destructive and unworthy of support.