Norman Borlaug, anti-famine crusader who won the Nobel Prize, dies at 95

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On Saturday, Nobel Prize winning agronomist Norman Borlaug died. He was 95.

Known as "the father of the Green Revolution," Borlaug was one of America's three five living Nobel peace prize winners. While the others -- Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger and Elie Wiesel -- are household names, Borlaug was largely unknown in the United States. However, his agricultural work changed the way the world cultivates, grows, and consumes food; in the process, he vastly increased the world's food supply and political security.

Borlaug's revolution began with an experiment. In 1953, he began working in Mexico to create a hybrid wheat that would combine the short stalks of Japanese wheat with the disease resistance of American strains. The ultimate product, which he finished in 1960, had a higher agricultural yield and used fewer chemicals than previous crops.
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Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the "green revolution," died in Texas at age 95 on September 12. The scientist won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in combating world hunger.
Bill Meeks, AP
Bill Meeks, AP


By 1963, Borlaug's wheat had nearly doubled Mexico's wheat production. In subsequent years, he created strains of the plant that were appropriate for India, Pakistan and the United States. In all three countries, Borlaug's wheat vastly increased wheat yields, improved food security and reduced famine. In 1970, the Nobel Prize committee honored his accomplishments with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Borlaug's revolution has had its fair share of detractors. Some have argued, for example, that he laid the foundation for today's monoculture, or single-crop farms, along with the massive pesticide, insecticide, and runoff problems that they have engendered. In fact, today's movement toward locavore and organic foods is, in many ways, a response to the excesses of the agricultural system that Borlaug helped create.

In some ways, Borlaug might not have disagreed. Until his death, he was working to develop genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that, he argued, had the potential to redress many of the problems of monoculture, enabling farmers to use less water and fewer chemicals.

While food activists may criticize Borlaug for the excesses of his revolution, it's worth noting that his advances have enabled millions to eat, making pricey, small-yield crops a matter of preference, not necessity. There aren't many people who can claim to have saved millions of people, but Borlaug's famine-reducing measures did just that.

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