Greatest Man You Have Never Heard Of
By Scott Gillette | Bio
a hero. One who shines more brightly through the passage of time. One who has
accomplished something great. But more than that, a hero has to be free of
relentless moral scrutiny, and must possess a vision that inspires others to do
With this definition in mind, I select not only the greatest hero of the 20th century, but also the least recognized: Norman Borlaug.
was born in 1914 in Cresco, Iowa. His youth was a quintessentially Midwestern
one, as he grew up on a farm and excelled in academics and athletics. However,
the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the suffering it caused left an indelible mark on
Borlaug’s life. He recalls, “I saw these people out there on the streets in the cold,
mostly grown men and whole families too, sleeping on newspapers, hands out,
asking for a nickel, begging for food. This was before the soup lines.
this time, American farmers began to experiment with high-yield farming
techniques to provide crop failures and dust bowls in the future. These
techniques spawned different ideas in Borlaug’s mind that eventually became
his life’s mission: to teach and spread these new farming innovations around
After studying forestry at the University of Minnesota, he received his doctorate in plant pathology in 1942. Then, through funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, he traveled to Campo Atizapan, Mexico, whereby he made two momentous breakthroughs. The first involved “shuttle breeding”, a technique that sped up the immunities of several crops from disease. Second, Borlaug produced shorter and equally sized stalks of wheat’s and plants, in order to ensure that all the plants received an equal amount of sunlight.
new wheat breeds doubled to tripled the amount of wheat production in Mexico.
Mexico increased its farm production six times over between 1944 and 1984, and
while many factors are responsible for this enormous increase, Borlaug played a
significant role in this increase.
Borlaug traveled to India and Pakistan in 1962 in an effort to duplicate his
success in Mexico. When both nations plunged into war against each other,
Borlaug’s efforts became profoundly urgent, and far more dangerous.
Participating scientists worked in crop fields within the sight of artillery
efforts paid off. With the techniques of breeding and utilizing new strains of
wheat in order to vastly increase yields, tens of millions of lives were saved
in both South Asian countries, and a famine in India was averted.
Easterbrook’s Atlantic article, “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity”
recounts the success and obstacles that beset Borlaug as he sought to spread
high-yield farming around the globe.
As Robert Kates, a former
director of the World Hunger Program, at
Brown University, says, "If you plot growth in farm yields over the
century, the 1960s period does not particularly stand out for overall global
trends. What does stand out is the movement of yield increases from the West to
the developing world, and Borlaug was one of the crucial innovators there."
Touring the subcontinent in the late 1960s and encountering field after field of
robust wheat, Forrest Frank Hill, a former vice-president of the Ford
Foundation, told Borlaug, "Enjoy this now, because nothing like it will
ever happen to you again. Eventually the naysayers and the bureaucrats will
choke you to death, and you won't be able to get permission for more of these
the 1980s, Borlaug then set his sights on Africa, which is one of last areas on
earth where population growth was exceeding agricultural production. The
Rockefeller and Ford Foundations dropped their support in the 1980s because of
claims by environmentalists that his high-yield agricultural methods were
dangerous. So the man who arguably saved more lives than any other person who
ever lived posed a danger to environmentalists. That says a lot about
has been on the forefront of the quantum leap that mankind has made in becoming
self-sufficient in food. The fact that many groups, like Greenpeace and the
World Wildlife Fund oppose his efforts demands deeper scrutiny.
Opponents to Borlaug’s work argue that farm products made with chemicals and pesticides are unhealthy for people to consume, and strain the natural environment. Such “unnatural” practices encompass an evil corporate agenda out of touch with natural harmony and rhythms. Organic farming is required in order for the poorer parts of the world to achieve “sustainable development.”
there has never been a shred of evidence that genetically modified food has
killed or hurt a single person in the world. Never. The only reason one would
pose against Borlaug’s work is that the saving of tens of millions of lives
has come at too high a price against other policy goals. And those policy goals
are based more on romantic illusions than clear, tangible threats. Patrick
Moore, a former leader at Greenpeace, observed in Wired magazine, "Their
(the environmental movement’s) idea is that all human activity is negative,
while trees are by nature good. That's a religious interpretation, not a
scientific or logical interpretation."
Driessen, a former environmentalist and creator of Eco-Imperialism.com, now
combats the environmental movement’s drive to stop genetically modified crop
projects, despite their life-giving potential. “The fact that a quarter
of the developing world’s children under age ten are malnourished is of little
apparent concern to these groups.”
Niger Innis of the Congress for Racial Equality
also has observed, “For rich countries to tell poor nations they must adopt
the most stringent environmental rules, to address esoteric First World concerns
– and ignore real, immediate, life-or-death problems in Africa, India and
Mexico – is worse than hypocritical.”
The case against Borlaug is frighteningly only one
example of how the environmental movement is the enemy of progress in the
developing world. Indeed, there is no better way of helping Third World nations
than by preventing environmental groups from inflicting policy decisions there.
Activists like Paul Driessen and Niger Innes work to discredit the environmental
movement’s march, thereby giving the majority of people in the world a chance
at autonomy and progress.
Borlaug, who still teaches at Texas A&M
University, has triumphed in making chemically created and genetically modified
foodstuffs a reality for much of the world, and the hope for a far better life
for those who live in the developing world. His life is a testament to the best
that America has to offer at this time in our history. Borlaug’s vision of a
world without malnutrition and famine must prevail; if we view humanity as a
part of nature and not an enemy of it, we will.
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