A central figure in the “green revolution”, Norman Ernest Borlaug (born March 25, 1914) was born on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, to Henry and Clara Borlaug. For the past twenty-seven years he has collaborated with Mexican scientists on problems of wheat improvement; for the last ten or so of those years he has also collaborated with scientists from other parts of the world, especially 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 accepts and discards methods or results in a constant search for more fruitful and effective ones, while at the same time avoiding the pursuit of what he calls “academic butterflies”. A vigorous man who can perform prodigies of manual labor in the fields, he brings to his work the body and competitive spirit of the trained athlete, which indeed he was in his high school and college days.
After completing his primary and secondary education in Cresco, 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.
To his scientific goal 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. Statistics on the vast acreage planted with the new wheat and on the revolutionary yields harvested in Mexico, India, and Pakistan are given in the presentation speech by Mrs. Lionaes and in the Nobel lecture by Dr. Borlaug. Well advanced, also, is the use of the new wheat in six Latin American countries, six in the Near and Middle East, several in Africa.
When the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in cooperation with the Mexican government established the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), an autonomous international research training institute having an international board of trustees and staff, Dr. Borlaug was made director of its International Wheat Improvement Program. In this capacity he has been able to realize more fully a third objective, that of training young scientists in research and production methods. From his earliest days in Mexico he has, to be sure, carried on an intern program, but with the establishment of the Center, he has been able to reach out internationally. In the last seven years some 1940 young scientists from sixteen or so countries (the figures constantly move upward) have studied and worked at the Center.
Dr. Borlaug is presently participating in extensive experimentation with triticale, a man-made species of grain derived from a cross between wheat rye that shows promise of being superior to either wheat or rye in productivity and nutritional quality.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Borlaug has received extensive recognition from universities and organizations in six countries: Canada, India, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, the United States. In 1968 he received an especially satisfying tribute when the people of Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, in whose area he did some of his first experimenting, named a street in his honor.
Borlaug, Norman E., “The Impact of Agricultural Research on Mexican Wheat Production”, Transactions of the New York Academy of Science, 20 (1958) 278-295.
Borlaug, Norman E., “Mexican Wheat Production and Its Role in the Epidemiology of Stem Rust in North America”, Phytopathology, 44 (1954) 398-404.
Borlaug, Norman E., Wheat Breeding and Its Impact on World Food Supply. Public lecture at the Third International Wheat Genetics Symposium, August 5-9, 1968. Canberra, Australia, Australian Academy of Science, 1968.
Borlaug, Norman E., “Wheat, Rust, and People”, Phytopathology, 55 (1965) 1088-1098.
Borlaug, Norman E., and others, “A Green Revolution Yields a Golden Harvest”, Columbia Journal of World Business, 4 (September-October, 1969) 9-19.
Brown, Lester R., “The Agricultural Revolution in Asia”, Foreign Affairs, 46 (July, 1968) 688 – 698.
Brown, Lester R., Seeds of Change: The Green Revolution and Development in the 1970’s. New York, Praeger, 1970. Contains a bibliography.
Freeman, Orville, World without Hunger. New York, Praeger, 1968.
The Green Revolution: A Symposium on Science and Foreign Policy. Proceedings before the Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, 91st Congress, First Session, December 5, 1969 (#38-612) J. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970.
Hardin, Clifford M., ed., Overcoming World Hunger. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Johnson, David Gale, The Struggle against World Hunger. New York, Foreign Policy Association, 1967.
Ladejinsky, Wolf, “Ironies of India’s Green Revolution”, Foreign Affairs, 48 (July, 1970) 758-768.
Myrdal, Gunnar, The Challenge of World Poverty: A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline, chap. 4, “Agriculture ” pp. 78-138. New York, Pantheon Books, 1970.
Paarlberg, Don, Norman Borlaug: Hunger Fighter. Foreign Economic Development Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating with the U.S. Agency for International Development (PA 969). Washington, D. C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970.
“Statement to the Press” from Dr. J. George Harrar, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. New York, The Rockefeller Foundation, October 21, 1970.
“U.S. Agronomist Gets Nobel Peace Prize”, the New York Times (October 22, 1970) 1.
Wharton, Clifton R., Jr.,”The Green Revolution: Cornucopia or Pandora’s Box”, Foreign Affairs, 47 (April, 1969) 464-476.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Norman Borlaug died on 12 September, 2009.
Their work and discoveries range from the formation of black holes and genetic scissors to efforts to combat hunger and develop new auction formats.
See them all presented here.