Who was Norman Borlaug? Folks who grew up on a farm (like me) know him, but many of the Moms I chatted up at the local grocery store today haven’t even heard of Borlaug.
Sure, Americans could point at a picture of Oprah and name her, or Madonna, or even Kanye West because of his boorish behavior at this weekend’s MTV Award Show (http://tinyurl.com/mcy85v).
Norman Borlaug didn’t have his own talk show. He didn’t have star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or bevy of ‘peeps’ or agents. But what Borlaug did achieve in his 95 years on this Earth is more than a wall full of awards which includes the Nobel Prize, the American Medal of Freedom, the Vannevar Bush Award for lifetime achievement in science and 50 other honorary doctorates.
Awards are one thing. Saving lives is another and Borlaug saved more people on this planet than any other in history; quite an achievement for a quiet, dirt-under-the-fingernails Iowa farm boy.
Borlaug won all these awards and saved billions from starvation by coming up with high yield grain. His drought-resistant dwarf wheat was able to grow in harsh, desolate climates and it saved billions from starvation in Africa and around the world.
Borlaug, who lived to the ripe old age of 95, saw the poor soils and antiquated farming methods that failed to bring life-saving crops to the people of Africa. Then, he remembered the Dust Bowl in our country and the soup lines of the Great Depression. He went to work.
As a farmer and an agronomist, he believed that if the crops could take root and be hardier in dry climates, they could prevent erosion and stand up against pests. More than that, he believed that if people just had enough to eat, peace would reign over political strife.
We’re now at a time in our nation when folks who’ve lived as long as Borlaug harkens back to the days of the Depression; because more Americans are out of work and losing their homes. I think of the young Moms and senior citizens I interviewed in line at a Des Moines Food Pantry and I know that shopping for them isn’t about choosing between organic, cage-free or free range; it’s about getting what’s on the shelf because they are desperate to feed their children. Sure, there are folks who continue to advocate a return to the kind of agriculture of Borlaug’s youth; when 90% of the beef came from pasture-roaming cows on vast tracks of undeveloped land, or crops wilted or succeeded purely by luck, timing or the divinity of weather.
But clearly, those times are past. With only two percent of farmers in this country having to feed a population predicted to hit 9-billion in our lifetime; it’ll take the kind of high-yield crops that Borlaug developed to feed them all on what little undeveloped, unpopulated farmland we have left.
So when I go home tonight and ask my family what they’d like to eat based on the many choices I picked up at my neighborhood grocery store, I’d like to say, “thank you, Norman” for the work that led to all the food choices on the shelves today.. and for years to come.
Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.