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Food for Thought

Times Daily (Alabama)
By Emilio Sahurie
March 15, 2003

He is a 1970 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, but still he waited in line to grab a sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie from a reception table. Well-respected around the world for a scientific career spanning more than 50 years, Norman E. Borlaug chatted with strangers Friday morning outside the TVA auditorium. He posed for photographs and signed a few autographs.

Eight days short of his 89th birthday, the grandfatherly figure with a hearing device in one ear is very much a people person. "I like to read when I have the time or can't sleep at night," said Borlaug, responding to a question about what he enjoys doing in his free time.

Free time is a commodity to Borlaug, who "officially retired" in 1979 but nonetheless has kept a busy schedule of traveling around the world, meeting people and helping farmers. The noted agronomist, who arrived from Mexico on Thursday, gave a presentation Friday titled "Feeding a World of Ten Billion People – the TVA/IFDC Legacy."

Optimistic for a world that could face Malthusian fears – fears that the population would grow faster than the food supply – that plagued the globe 40-50 years ago, Borlaug continues combating hunger. Known as the father of the Green Revolution, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for research that prevented millions of people from starving.

"Feeding 10 billion – can it be done?" Borlaug said about mid-century world population projections. "Yes, it can be done without destroying the environment."

Addressing a crowd of more than 250 people, Borlaug said countries like Pakistan and India have reached self-sufficiency with the introduction of high-yielding wheat and use of improved fertilizers. Among his ongoing projects, Borlaug is working in Africa to introduce farmers to improved crops and fertilizers – including using technology developed by TVA and IFDC.

While there are debates among scientists about not interfering with traditional farming methods in developing countries, the alternatives will be devastating, he said. Not taking advantage of high-tech fertilizers and a new batch of genetically modified crops may mean farmers would cut more forests, leading to species extinction and starvation, Borlaug said.

Borlaug's visit Friday also coincided with the 26th anniversary of the day when President Jimmy Carter designated IFDC as a nonprofit, public, international organization. Recognizing his life-saving work, the mayors of the Shoals' four largest cities presented Borlaug with a proclamation making March 14, 2003, Norman Borlaug Day.

IFDC president Amit Roy said Borlaug plans to be in the Shoals for a few days before traveling to Michigan and likely other commitments overseas. "He has dedicated his career to the issue of global food security," Roy said. Besides working with farmers, Borlaug enjoys spending time with children. Borlaug spent Friday afternoon talking to students at Bradshaw High School.

Hardly a household name in the United States, Borlaug is welcomed with open arms by heads of state and farmers in other countries. IFDC official Jorge Polo hopes Borlaug's legacy will not be taken for granted by younger generations of Americans.

"Everyone here has a full stomach," Polo said. "He comes here and not a lot of people recognize him. "Other countries know what he has done," he said.

Borlaug, who works with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter in agricultural programs in Africa, said the continent is his greatest worry in the coming years. Africa faces high rates of population growth and ravaging diseases like AIDS.

Besides bringing agricultural technology to farmers, Borlaug said Africa needs infrastructure to succeed. "Without roads, there are no schools," Borlaug said. "Roads are the first step in public education and health."

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