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Feeding a World of 10 Billion People: The Miracle Ahead

Dr. Norman Borlaug
May 6, 1997

Dr. Norman Borlaug (Nobel Laureate and architect of Green Revolution) delivered a lecture entitled "Feeding a World of 10 Billion People: the Miracle Ahead" at the formal designation of the De Montfort University - Norman Borlaug Institute for Plant Science Research (Leicester, UK) on May 6, 1997. Part of his speech was reproduced in the recent issue of IAPTC journal "Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology".

Dr. Borlaug provides his insightful wisdom on the role of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries and also his thoughts on the anti-biotechnology movement, which are highly relevant to current debates on the role of this technology.

Some excerpts from his talk:

"I am now convinced that what began as a biotechnology bandwagon some 15 years ago has developed some invaluable new scientific methodologies and products which need active financial and organizational support to bring them to fruition in food and fibre production systems."

"How will these resource-poor farmers be able to afford the products of biotechnology research? . . . Fundamentally, the issue is whether small-scale farmers of the developing world also have a right to share in the benefits of biotechnology. If the answer is yes, then what is the role of international and national governments to ensure that this right is met? I believe we must give this matter serious thought. "

"Science and technology are under growing attack in the affluent nations where misinformed environmentalists claim that the consumer is being poisoned out of existence by the current high-yielding systems of agricultural production. While I contend this isn't so, I ask myself how it is that so many people believe the contrary? First, there seems to be a growing fear of science, per se, as the pace of technological change increases".

"Over the past 30 years, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the environmental movement in the industrialized nations, which has led to legislation to improve air and water quality, protect wildlife, control the disposal of toxic wastes, protect the soils, and reduce the loss of biodiversity. In almost every environmental category far more progress is being made than most commentators in the media are willing to admit. Why? I believe that it's because "apocalypse sells." Sadly, all too many scientists, many of whom should (and do) know better, have jumped on the environmental bandwagon in search of research funds. When scientists align themselves with anti-science political movements, like Rifkin's anti-biotechnology crowd, what are we to think? When scientists lend their names and credibility to unscientific propositions, what are we to think? Is it any wonder that science is losing its constituency? We must be on guard against politically opportunistic, charlatan scientists like T.D. Lysenko, whose pseudo-science in agriculture and vicious persecution of anyone who disagreed with him, contributed greatly to the collapse of the former USSR."

"I often ask the critics of modern agricultural technology what the world would have been like without the technological advances that have occurred. For those whose main concern is protecting the "environment," let's look at the positive impact of science-based technology on the land. Had 1961 yields still prevailed today, three times more land in China and the USA and two times more land in India would be needed to equal 1992 cereal production. Obviously, such a surplus of land of the same quality is not available, and especially not in populous China and India. "

"I now say that the world has the technology - either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline - to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks. Small, but vociferous and highly effective and well-funded, anti-science and technology groups are slowing the application of new technology, whether it be developed from biotechnology or more conventional methods of agricultural science. I am particularly alarmed by those who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World -and especially those in sub-Saharan Africa - access to the improved seeds, fertilizers, and crop protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs which, in turn, has accelerated their economic development. While the affluent nations can certainly afford to pay more for food produced by the so-called "organic" methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low-income, food-deficit nations cannot. As Richard Leakey likes to remind his environmental supporters, "you have to have at least one square meal a day to be a conservationist or an environmentalist."

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