March 26, 2014

YESTERDAY WOULD HAVE BEEN NORMAN BORLAUG’S 100TH BIRTHDAY. This piece by Gregg Easterbrook is worth a read.

He received the Nobel in 1970, primarily for his work in reversing the food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960s. Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted — for example, in the 1967 best seller Famine — 1975! The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.

Yet although he has led one of the century’s most accomplished lives, and done so in a meritorious cause, Borlaug has never received much public recognition in the United States, where it is often said that the young lack heroes to look up to. One reason is that Borlaug’s deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there. Another reason is that Borlaug’s mission — to cause the environment to produce significantly more food—has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent commentators, as perhaps better left undone. More food sustains human population growth, which they see as antithetical to the natural world.

The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, once sponsors of his work, have recently given Borlaug the cold shoulder.

Plus, note this from Borlaug: “(Most Western environmentalists) have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.”

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