To few people does humanity owe as much as it does to Norman Borlaug. Hundreds of millions of people literally owe their lives to the man who conquered famine. First in Mexico, during 12 critical years from 1944 onward, then in India, and finally in Africa in the 1980s, Norman Borlaug found a way to conquer once and for all the spectre of mass starvation that loomed in the first half of the 20th century
See this excellent obituary in The Economist : Norman Borlaug, feeder of the world [PDF]
After decades of intense visionary pioneering efforts, Dr. Borlaug unleashed the “Green Revolution,” which immediately improved the nutrition of millions and millions of people in poverty-stricken rural areas and gave humanity the ability to obtain enough food for itself.
His scientific achievements ranged from conquering pests and diseases that ravaged crops and left them utterly in ruins to tripling wheat production with the creation of new varieties.
However, the noble humanitarian spirit that informed his scientific talent is what made Borlaug a true titan of humanity. Moved by the terrible scenes of hunger that he witnessed as a youth in his own country, the United States, during the Great Depression, and convinced that “you cannot build peace on empty stomachs,” Borlaug set himself a mission, rather than a goal: to conquer hunger forever.
Neither laurels, such as the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, nor his resounding success ever deflected him from this leitmotif. To the end of his days he continued to insist on the need to continue increasing world food production to fill the mouths that every two seconds join the human family and to voice his concern about the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who still suffer from malnutrition, even though we produce more than enough food to feed them.
Promoting and constructing a multisectoral approach that targets the social determinants of malnutrition to reduce the inequities besetting the most vulnerable groups is precisely one of the objectives that we are pursuing with initiatives such as the Pan American Alliance for Nutrition and Development, in which we participate with other United Nations agencies.
We are tackling an issue that is not merely scientific or technical but moral in nature. It is shameful that 800 million people suffer from malnutrition in a world that produces enough food to feed us all, thanks above all to Borlaug’s legacy. Not for nothing does the first Millennium Development Goal address this moral scandal, calling for a halving of the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
We have the basic tools to get the job done, many of them derived from the work of Norman Borlaug. Let us hope that we, too, have the moral clarity that spurred his herculean efforts to achieve this objective. We could do no better homage to this extraordinary scientist and his remarkable humanitarian spirit.
* Mirta Roses Periago