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
Borlaug is an American hero and a world icon."
George H. W. Bush
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."
& Radio Interviews and Media Reviews
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
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
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
"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
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
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329 • [email protected]