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The Life of Norman Borlaug

His accomplishments

Working in Mexico in the mid-1960s, Dr. Borlaug and his team developed a special breed of dwarf wheat that resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties.

Borlaug introduced this wheat to India and Pakistan, which, after years of drought, were on the verge of famine. Wheat production quadrupled in a decade; by today that increase is tenfold. By 1974 India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals. Pakistan progressed from harvesting 3.4 million tons of wheat annually when Borlaug arrived to around 18 million today.

Dr. Borlaug subsequently introduced high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the “Green Revolution” through most of Asia.

During the last 20 years, Dr. Borlaug has been involved in Sub-Saharan African programs to revolutionize farming. As a result of his efforts, yields have been at the worst double, nearly always triple, and sometimes quadruple what the traditional practices were producing.

His approach

Dr. Borlaug’s approach was different from that of many scientists and researchers in that it was very hands-on. His efforts to increase agricultural production usually involved the following process:

1. Develop the technology;

2. Deploy the technology, often working side-by-side with local farmers;

3. Encourage others – farmers, landowners, government officials - to adoptthe technology on a widespread basis.

His encouragement extends to the scientific arena, where he inspired other scientists to build upon the advances he made.

His legacy

This inspiration has led subsequent generations of scientists to focus on solving agricultural problems and providing solutions. Three current areas of interest benefit from and reflect Dr. Borlaug’s legacy:

* Improved, higher yielding varieties of conventional seeds

* Biotechnology-improved varieties for better pest protection and stress tolerance

* Marker-assisted breeding technology to speed breeding and crop improvement

In particular, these technologies are helping to meet nutritional needs by providing more productive, nutritious and sustainable cropping systems.