Tuesday, 17 July 2012
The Most Amazing Person You've Never Heard Of: Norman Borlaug
79 years and 3 days before I was born, a brilliant man was born in America. In his lifetime, he won many awards for his achievements and saved so many lives that people lost count long ago. Yet, very few people know his name or why it is important.
Norman Ernest Borlaug received in PhD in plant pathology and genetics in 1942 and then moved to Mexico, where he researched wheat. The research he conducted in the team of plant pathologist George Harrar led him to develop various genetically engineered strains of wheat which was high-yield and disease resistant. His work there spanned sixteen years, during which time he bred many successful crops. Altogether his work meant that a lot more wheat could be harvested from any given crop and his work in Mexico alone saved at least a million people from starvation.
After that, his career took him through numerous starving communities including places in India, China and various countries in Africa. In each one, he studied and improved the crops so that more could be gathered and more people fed. In the mid-1960s, he started to spread his powerful crops in war-torn India, which saved millions more from acute famine. He took his crops to Pakistan where wheat yields nearly double and, in the space of three years, the country became self-sufficient and no longer depended on foreign aid in order to stave off starvation.
In 1970, Borlaug was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the world food supply. At that time, it was estimated that he had already saved over a billion lives.
When he retired from travelling through starving countries, he continued to teach and research to continue his legacy. His died of lymphoma at the age of 95 in December 2009. His achievements saved the lives of more people than you will ever know. He dedicated his life to easing the suffering of others and ending hunger in the world and no one can say that he did not achieve just that many times over. Throughout the course of his life, he was honoured with numerous awards and prizes for his work in helping others – and rightly so.
The sad thing is that so many people will never hear his name. He is no celebrity and he is not taught in schools, except to speciality students focussing on plant genetics. The amount of people he has saved from starvation increases every day as more and more people in developing countries survive on the crop strains that he developed and introduced to their ecosystems.
But the worst thing about people not knowing about Norman Borlaug and his amazing work is that it breeds so much ignorance among people who think they know about genetically engineered food. People campaigning against GM crops claim that it is harmful to people and that it will mutate them, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that people make ignorant comments about it and stupid people listen; then stupid people get into power and they take the crops away from all the people who are benefiting from them. That wouldn’t be a problem if this wasn’t something that was necessary to save lives. People are already starving even with GM crops – without them, the world would not be able to feed two thirds of its population.
It’s only thanks to people like Norman Borlaug that mankind is becoming truly self-sufficient. Maybe people should stop complaining and thank him.