This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special
English. I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Doug Johnson. Today we tell about the
American plant scientist Norman Borlaug. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts
to increase food production around the world. His work to battle world hunger is credited with saving millions of
people from starvation.
Borlaug traveled the world to help people develop better ways to produce food. This might explain why he is probably better
known overseas than in the United States.
Borlaug worked in fields to show farmers new ways to grow
crops like wheat and rice. He also worked
in the laboratory to create new versions of wheat that could resist disease.
became known as the "Father of the Green Revolution." Some people say he saved more lives than
anyone else in history. Yet one American
newspaper says he described himself simply as a "corn-fed, country-bred Iowa
Ernest Borlaug was born to Norwegian-American parents in rural Iowa on March
twenty-fifth, nineteen fourteen. He grew
up on a farm. He began his education in
a one-room country schoolhouse.
members say young Norman was interested in plants. They say he often asked why some plants grew
better in different areas of the farm.
family urged him to continue his studies at a time when many farm boys left
school to find a job. He later worked on
farms, earning fifty cents a day to pay for college during the Great
attended the University of Minnesota, where he completed a study program in
forestry. During the Depression, he
witnessed people going hungry in the central United States. This deeply influenced his interest in
agricultural sciences and better ways to produce food.
a young man, Borlaug worked for a short time on forestry projects in Idaho and
Massachusetts. He later returned to the
University of Minnesota to study plant pathology. After those studies were completed, he worked
as a researcher at a laboratory owned by the DuPont chemical company.
this period, many experts warned of mass starvation in the developing world
where populations were expanding faster than crop production.
nineteen forty-four, Borlaug left his job with DuPont, and began a project to
increase Mexico's wheat production. He
became the head of the newly-formed Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program
in Mexico. The program received financial
support from a private group, the Rockefeller Foundation.
farming conditions Borlaug found in Mexico were extremely bad. The soil was not good for growing crops, and
disease was destroying the plants. Over
the next twenty years, Borlaug worked with Mexican scientists to develop crops
that were able to resist disease. This
was done by crossbreeding different kinds of wheat to make stronger, more
resistant ones. He and the scientists
also developed plants that produced higher quantities of grain.
Borlaug worked with wheat genes to shrink the plant while
keeping the grain large. Using the same
amount of land, the new wheat variety could produce three to four times as much
food. This method of shrinking plants
would become a major part of the Green Revolution.
imported sixty percent of its wheat in the early nineteen forties. By nineteen fifty-six, the country produced
enough wheat to feed its population. By
nineteen sixty-three, Mexico began exporting wheat.
with researchers throughout the world, Borlaug began to offer his methods in
areas where people were threatened with starvation. He began to receive urgent requests from poor
countries where population growth was more than the food supply could feed.
first stop was Asia. He and his team had
great success in Pakistan and India. Local
farmers could grow four times more wheat than before. Pakistan was able to feed its own population
by nineteen sixty-eight. Six years
later, India also became self-sufficient. Borlaug also brought his methods to the Middle
East and South American countries like Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.
nineteen seventy, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward world
peace through increasing food supply. At
the time of the announcement, Borlaug was working in farmland in Mexico.
he heard the news, he thought it was a joke. It is said that he traveled the eighty kilometers to Mexico City to meet
with reporters and arrived with dirt on his hands. Later that year, Borlaug traveled to the home
of his ancestors, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
also won the highest civilian honors in the United States. He was given the Presidential Medal of
Freedom in nineteen seventy-seven. Thirty years later, he received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Borlaug is one of only five
people to receive all three honors. The
others are Martin Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Elie
One of the lasting effects of Norman
Borlaug is the World Food Prize, which he established in nineteen
eighty-six. The award recognizes the
work of individuals who have helped human development by improving the quality,
quantity or availability of food in the world.
Borlaug's death, billionaire Bill Gates spoke at the World Food Prize symposium
GATES: "In the middle
of the twentieth century, experts predicted famine and starvation. But they turned out to be wrong, because they
did not predict Norman Borlaug. He not
only showed humanity how to get more food from the Earth, he proved that
farming has the power to lift up the lives of the poor."
Norman Borlaug's work lives on through
the Borlaug Fellowship Program. The
Department of Agriculture supervises the program. It brings foreign agricultural scientists to
the United States each year and places them with American scientists.
Later in his life, Borlaug turned his attention to Africa. He and former American President Jimmy Carter
worked with the Sasakawa Africa Association to help increase the quality and
production of corn on the continent.
But not everyone considered Borlaug a
hero. Environmental activists criticized
his intensive methods, including use of fertilizers and pesticides. These products are used to help plants grow
and protect them from insects.
Borlaug suggested that Western
critics had never known real hunger. He
also wondered if they had ever watched their children go hungry.
Borlaug's desire to feed the world is what drove
him. He was a firm believer that the job
of feeding the world could not be done without fertilizers and pesticides. Borlaug and those who followed his lead
argued that older methods of sustainable farming could not produce enough food
to prevent hunger in poorer areas of the world.
In nineteen seventy-one,
he criticized opponents of the insecticide DDT, which was later banned in the
BORLAUG:"I am very proud to
be an American but I am also frightened by this hysteria. [If we] remove DDT the next will be all
insecticides, after that it will be all the weed-killers and the fungicides and
then the fertilizers, if the hysteria prevails. And when this happens, sir, the U.S. will be
importing food, only there won't be any place from where to import it."
But later in life,
Borlaug urged farmers not to overuse chemical products.
until his death in September two thousand nine, Borlaug was still working on
agricultural projects. He was a
professor of international agriculture at Texas A and M University in Texas. The university established an institute in
months before his death, Norman Borlaug spoke to VOA at his ninety-fifth
birthday party. Borlaug said he was
worried about the world's ability to feed itself. He said that the work to improve crop
production must continue.
Borlaug suffered from lymphoma. Health problems linked to the disease led to
his death. Borlaug's family released a
statement shortly after he died. It said
they wanted his life to be an example for making a difference in the lives of
others, and for working toward the goal of ending suffering for all mankind.
Our program was
written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm
I'm Barbara Klein. You can download this
program and others from our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for more news about
science in VOA Special English.