Recognizing the Efforts of Agronomist and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug

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Recognizing the Efforts of Agronomist and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug  (2009) 
by Rosa L. DeLauro

Recognizing the Efforts of Agronomist and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ms. DeLAURO. Madam Speaker: I rise to recognize and pay my respects to the late Norman Borlaug, who passed away earlier this month.

The father of the Green Revolution, and one of only six people in history to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Medal of Honor, Dr. Borlaug may just be the most underappreciated genius in human history. In the annals of our species' time on Earth, he stands like a Colossus. It is no exaggeration to say--indeed it is said often--that Dr. Borlaug saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived, and that he quite literally changed the fate of our world.

Born in 1914 in Saude, Iowa, Norman Borlaug spent his formative years working on the family farm, leaving, Borlaug said later in life, only because of some sage advice offered by his grandfather--"You're wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on." With the help of a gift for wrestling--and Franklin Roosevelt's National Youth Administration--Borlaug enrolled in the University of Minnesota in 1933, supplementing his meager resources with stints in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the United States Forestry Service. He graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry, following it up with a Masters of Science in 1940 and a Doctorate in plant pathology and genetics in 1942.

After serving the World War II effort as a microbiologist at DuPont, Borlaug moved to Mexico in 1944 to take part in a Rockefeller Foundation project aimed at boosting wheat production. There, the true work of his life began.

At the time, Mexican farmers were able to raise less than half of the wheat they needed to feed their population, mainly due to a debilitating fungus known as rust. For the next 13 years, Borlaug experimented with and cross-bred strains of wheat from all over the world to develop a grain that was rust-resistant. When that success was finally achieved, other problems emerged. The new blend of wheat, while resistant to rust and many other diseases, was top-heavy and would break easily. So Borlaug looked to shorter Japanese dwarf strains, and the Green Revolution began in earnest.

By 1956, thanks to Dr. Borlaug's efforts, Mexico grew two to three times more wheat than before, and was self-sufficient in wheat. From there, spurred on by the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations, Borlaug brought his extraordinary insights to the rest of the globe. In India and Pakistan, North Africa and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Philippines, where scientists followed Borlaug's pioneering vision to create a new strand of rice, Borlaug's hard work and amazing insights transformed agriculture and allowed for incredible new yields all over a hungry world.

In 1970, Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for the transformation he had achieved. In an age that was greatly concerned about the dire consequences of exploding population, Borlaug utilized science, innovation, and his "Iowa-stubborn tenacity" to lead the whole world forward. He remains the only agricultural scientist to have ever won the Nobel Prize--Indeed, in part to correct this oversight, Borlaug later helped to found the World Food Prize, to encourage agronomists of later generations to follow in his footsteps.

Borlaug was not only a pioneering scientist but a pioneering humanitarian. I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Borlaug several times over the past few years, and he was a consistent and forceful advocate on global food issues. He dedicated his days not only to feeding hungry people and helping them achieve self-sufficiency, but to improving their lives in any way he could. A professor at Texas A&M University for many years, Borlaug also served as an important advisor to governments around the world and a compelling advocate for the many virtues of agricultural science. To say nothing of his continuing stints as Boy Scout Troopmaster and Mexico's first Little League Baseball coach, and of his life as a husband and father.

After his passing on September 13, 2009, Borlaug's children asked that he be remembered as "a model for making a difference in the lives of others and to bring about efforts to end human misery for all mankind." And so he was, and so he shall. The world has lost one of its great men in Norman Borlaug, and we are all the poorer for it. Nonetheless, his remarkable contributions to our people and our planet will last longer than any of us.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).