Norman Borlaug, RIP

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 13, 2009

The great man passed away last night. The remembrances have started to pour in. It is a pity that so many people will only just now learn about Borlaug and his massive contributions to the fight to lessen and end human misery, but better late than never on that score.

The New York Times gives us a worthy tribute:

He was widely described as the father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution, though decidedly reluctant to accept the title. “A miserable term,” he said, characteristically shrugging off any air of self-importance.

Yet his work had a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of people in developing countries. His breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history. Largely because of his work, countries that had been food deficient, like Mexico and India, became self-sufficient in producing cereal grains.

“More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,” the Nobel committee said in presenting him with the Peace Prize. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

Ronald Bailey calls Borlaug “the man who saved more human lives than anyone else in history.” If that is not a legacy to be proud of, I don’t know what is.

In my own tribute to Borlaug, I accidentally wrote in the first sentence that he had won “the Congressional Medal of Honor.” That is not the case; he actually won the Congressional Gold Medal. But Borlaug was no less heroic than those who did win the Medal of Honor. Generations will owe their lives, and a better quality of life to him.

UPDATE: As Moe Lane indicates, Borlaug helped in the effort to make people like Paul Ehrlich look silly. Perhaps Ehrlich should admit as much in the course of giving a properly fulsome eulogy in praise of Borlaug.

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