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The Man Who Fed the World

Ronald Bailey

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How a poor Iowa farm boy came to be one of humanity's greatest benefactors.

Who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970? You may be forgiven for not remembering, given some of the prize's dubious recipients over the years (e.g., Yasser Arafat). Well, then: Who has saved perhaps more lives than anyone else in history? The answer to both questions is, of course, Norman Borlaug.

Who? Norman Borlaug, 92, is the father of the "Green Revolution," the dramatic improvement in agricultural productivity that swept the globe in the 1960s. He is now the subject of an admiring biography by Leon Hesser, a former State Department official who first met Mr. Borlaug 40 years ago in Pakistan, where they worked together to boost that country's grain production. "The Man Who Fed the World" describes, in a workmanlike way, how a poor Iowa farm boy trained in forestry and plant pathology came to be one of humanity's greatest benefactors.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1944, Mr. Borlaug accepted an invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation to work on a project to boost wheat production in Mexico. At the time, Mexico was importing a good share of its grain. Working at plant breeding stations near Mexico City in the south and near Obregon in the northwestern part of the country, Mr. Borlaug and his staff spent nearly 20 years breeding the high-yield dwarf wheat that sparked the Green Revolution. (Using two stations allowed them to plant two crops a year instead of one, doubling the speed of research.) The key to their success was painstakingly cross-breeding thousands of wheat varieties to find those resistant to highly destructive "rust" fungi. They also changed the architecture of the wheat, from tall gangly stems to shorter sturdier ones that produced more grain.

Read the entire article on the Wall Street Opinion Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 05-Sep-06



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