Norman Borlaug Saved a Billion Lives – Article by Bradley Doucet

Norman Borlaug Saved a Billion Lives – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
April 13, 2014
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Wheat
A statue honouring Norman Borlaug was unveiled in DC earlier this week on what would have been the celebrated biologist’s 100th birthday. Borlaug’s work developing and promoting high-yield crop varieties is credited with averting the mass famines that were predicted in the 1960s and saving as many as a billion people in the developing world from starving to death. Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.” In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his history-altering humanitarian efforts.
Born in Iowa in 1914, Borlaug lived through the Dust Bowl, whose effects he noticed were less severe where newer, high-yield farming methods were in use. In the 1940s, he went to work for the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, teaching Mexican farmers the latest agricultural techniques and leading a research effort to perfect a high-yield, disease-resistant strain of wheat. In the 1960s, he moved to Pakistan and India, where he also successfully promoted the use of modern farming and high-yield wheat.

Yet this Green Revolution, as it came to be called, met with serious resistance from environmentalists, who to this day bemoan the need for inorganic fertilizers and industrial irrigation. Many greens promote the preservation of, and indeed a return to, traditional subsistence farming, even though it requires more land to grow an equivalent amount of food. Realistically, the choice humanity faces is between a) modern farming, b) razing our forests to make room for traditional farming, or c) mass starvation. And actually, without modern farming methods, razing our forests probably would not be enough to prevent mass starvation.

Thanks in part to the well-meaning but ill-conceived opposition of greens, the Green Revolution has barely begun to reach sub-Saharan Africa, the one part of the world where dire poverty is not hastily retreating. Thanks to too many people romanticizing traditional farming and demonizing modern agriculture, millions continue to suffer and die needlessly. As Borlaug himself once said, “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve 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 fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

Penn and Teller called Norman Borlaug “the greatest human that ever existed.” On his 100th birthday, let’s honour his unparalleled achievement by embracing agricultural technology and moving beyond simplistic and misleading fear-mongering. Let’s try to complete the glorious Green Revolution and spread prosperity across the globe—and save the world’s forests in the bargain.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

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