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Borlaug's Life Focuses on Education

Des Moines Register
By Jerry Perkins

Iowans know little about Cresco native Norman Borlaug, says Ken Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation.

"It is possible to go to school in Iowa for 12 to 16 years, and never learn about Norman Borlaug's role feeding people in the world," Quinn said of the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for saving hundreds of millions in India and Pakistan from starvation, and who is known as the Father of the Green Revolution.

The World Food Prize Foundation hopes to focus attention this week on Borlaug as part of ceremonies connected with the awarding of the 2001 World Food Prize to Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. The activities coincide with plans by family and friends in northeast Iowa to turn Borlaug's boyhood farm near Cresco into an educational center that will teach Iowa students about Borlaug and his life work.

The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation, led by Borlaug's nephew, Ted Behrens of Cedar Falls, took title to the property last year and will use the farm to promote understanding of Borlaug's contributions to the world. "It is important that the Foundation focus on developing education programs for youth," said Behrens. "American students desperately want and need heroes of substance to emulate."

Borlaug, 87, was born on his grandparents' farm in 1914. When he was 8, his family moved to the 106-acre farm near Cresco, where he grew up. "More than anything else, the values I learned here," Borlaug said during a 1996 visit to the Howard County farm, are the values that drove his life-long efforts to increase world food production. "I don't think up on cloud nine," he said. " think about that little farmer, trying to feed his family with only hand tools, living on the edge of starvation."

After graduating from college in 1937 and working for DuPont, Borlaug went to Mexico in 1944 as a wheat researcher for the International Center for the Improvement of Corn and Wheat. His work with high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties has been credited with staving off famine in India and Pakistan in the 1960s.

On Dec. 10, 1970, that work was recognized when Borlaug accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, the country where his ancestors farmed. Borlaug created the World Food Prize in 1986 as a way to recognize those who have increased the quantity or quality of food in the world. After the original sponsor dropped out, Des Moines businessman John Ruan assumed sponsorship of the prize in 1990 and endowed it with $10 million.

This week's World Food Prize activities will focus on the 15th anniversary of the prize and Borlaug's efforts to curb world hunger, Quinn said. Last week, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack proclaimed this week as "Dr. Norman E. Borlaug-World Food Prize Week in Iowa." To spread word of Borlaug and his work, the World Food Prize Foundation has sent the book, "Borlaug on World Hunger," to every high school and college in Iowa, Quinn said.

This year's ceremonies include a symphony written in Borlaug's honor that will be performed by the Des Moines Symphony on Thursday evening at the Des Moines Civic Center. That same night a public television documentary called "Out of Iowa: Borlaug and the Green Revolution" will be previewed at the Civic Center.

Norman Borlaug biography

* 1914: Born on grandparents' farm to Henry and Clara Borlaug.
* 1932: Finishes third in 145-pound weight class of state wrestling meet; graduates from Cresco High School.
* 1937: Marries Margaret Gibson; graduates from Minnesota.
* 1941-44: Works as plant pathologist for the DuPont Fungicide Testing Laboratory in Wilmington, Del.
* 1944: Goes to Mexico as a wheat researcher and begins developing high-yield varieties that help stave off famine in India and Pakistan in the 1960s.
* 1970: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
* 1973: Admitted to the Soviet Union's Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
* 1978: Receives the Iowa Award, the state's highest honor. Appointed to the Presidential Commission on Hunger by Jimmy Carter.
* 1983: Named to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame.
* 1984: Joins the faculty of Texas A & M University.
* 1985: Sausage Africa Association is formed by Borlaug, Carter and Japanese industrialist Ritchie Sausage to boost food production in Africa.
* 1986: Establishes World Food Prize.

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