"Dr. Borlaug's scientific achievements saved hundreds of millions of lives and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the distinction of one of the 100 most influential individuals of the 20th Century."
Jimmy Carter
"Dr. Borlaug is an American hero and a world icon."
George H. W. Bush
"This biography of one of the greatest men of our time is written in the same fast-paced, common sense style that has characterized the amazingly creative life of Norman Borlaug... No one can tell this story of Dr. Borlaug better than his fellow agriculturist and development authority, Dr. Leon Hesser."
George McGovern
TV & Radio Interviews and Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Norman Borlaug: A lifelong quest to end hunger

Thirty years past the age many people retire, Nobel winner Norman Borlaug -- still fighting hunger in Africa -- has a new biography and is in line for a congressional medal.

Matt McKinney, Star Tribune
Last update: October 02, 2006 9:51 PM

The world still springs green for Norman Borlaug, the University of Minnesota scientist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and father of the "Green Revolution," who at age 92 commands a moral authority few others equal.
The man commonly credited with saving more than a billion people from starving through his high-yield wheat varieties has lots more recent news. The U.S. Senate voted last week to award him the Congressional Gold Medal, a bill that still needs House approval and a presidential signature. This month, he celebrates the 20th anniversary of an annual $250,000 prize he awards to scientists who battle world hunger. And the Gates and Rockefeller foundations announced last month that they would build on his Green Revolution to fight hunger in Africa, one of the few areas of the world that skipped his techniques the first time around, back in the 1950s and '60s.
It's enough to tire out a man half his age, but Borlaug found time last week to swing by the University of Minnesota to talk to students and to promote his new biography: "The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger."
Whether it's his tireless approach or his resume, Borlaug's name brings widespread credibility, colleague A. Colin McClung said. "I think the remarkable thing is the extent to which he has never let go," said McClung, a scientist who will share with two others the 20th annual Food Prize when Borlaug awards it this month. "If he wants to make a proposal to somebody, he can get in almost any door in the world and his voice is heard."
The news about Africa comes as late confirmation for Borlaug, who despite a lifetime of accolades has faced criticism in recent decades for his preference for pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation in developing nations.
The foundations will spend $150 million over five years to develop and spread high-yield crops in Africa and to assist small farmers. The project will train scientists, breed new seed varieties adapted to Africa's climate and distribute the seeds.
"I think it's way overdue, and I'm really happy to see it," Paul Faeth said. The managing director of World Resources Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, added, "Africa is the only continent where food per person is declining; calories per person is actually going down."
Some estimates say three-quarters of African farmland is severely depleted of basic nutrients needed to grow crops. A watershed agreement came recently, when the leaders of 40 African nations met in Nigeria to sign a pact lifting all tariffs on fertilizers, making them more affordable for poor farmers.
Borlaug lost support for an African Green Revolution in the 1990s, when several large philanthropic organizations backed away from his initiatives because of concerns that they would hurt Africa's environment.
"Yes, there was criticism of the unintended consequences of the Green Revolution, and there were some unintended consequences," said Gary Toenniessen, director of food security at the Rockefeller Foundation. Some farmers overused pesticides and contaminated their land; mismanagement of water and irrigation systems led to soil erosion and water pollution.
The sort of success that Borlaug had in Asia -- where his methods helped Pakistan and India raise enough food to feed their citizens -- are unlikely in Africa. There's no single crop, like rice, that could be used across many countries. And the age-old irrigation systems in Asia don't exist in parched Africa.
"It's a tougher challenge," Toenniessen said, adding that he never bought the criticisms of Borlaug. "The Rockefeller Foundation never gave up on those ideas," he said. The foundation has moved most of its resources for agriculture to Africa, he noted.
Borlaug, who earned his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1942 and has spent much of his professional life working and living in Third World countries, dismisses some of his critics by saying that they don't know what it's like to be hungry.
The Texas resident, who still teaches at Texas A&M University, was in town promoting his biography, written by longtime colleague Leon Hesser. The book "captures a fair amount" of his life, Borlaug said in an interview at Borlaug Hall on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. But during the interview, on the day the Senate was voting to give him the country's highest civilian honor, his thoughts were mostly on Africa, and the lessons his life's work holds for the impoverished continent.
Borlaug said the road ahead for Africa's Green Revolution is fraught with difficulty.
Colonial powers built roads and railways deep into India and Pakistan to exploit the region for agricultural products, he said, and those roads later served the local population when they had surplus harvests to take to market. That doesn't exist in Africa.
"The colonial powers weren't interested in food [in Africa], they were interested in minerals or diamonds," Borlaug said. "They built railroads into the richest mineral areas of the world. Agriculture was ignored."
The path to development begins with roads, he said. Roads help farmers move surplus crops to areas that have a deficit. Ethiopia had good crops five years ago, but people 200 miles away were starving.
A reliable network of roads would become a lifeline for children to get to school, for the sick to get to clinics and for people in neighboring areas to build relationships. In Borlaug's vision, neighbors become friends as a bus moves people and crops back and forth across the countryside, "a beat up old bus moving down that road, tearing down ethnic and cultural barriers, linguistic barriers."
Matt McKinney 612-673-7329 [email protected]

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