Borlaug is dead

Norman Borlaug, father of the “green revolution” is dead. While catastrophiliacs talked about impending doom and authoritarian ways of population control, Borlaug invented methods that would result in a dramatic improvement in crop yields.

Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek writes-

A man who truly and radically and wonderfully ‘made a difference’ – Norman Borlaug – has died. This father of the Green Revolution directly enabled millions of persons to live healthier, longer lives — indeed, millions to be born who otherwise would never have lived.

Ronald Bailey at Reason links to a decade-old interview with the man-

In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Ehrlich also said, “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971.” He insisted that “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.”

But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn’t work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign to ship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmers how to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich’s book appeared, the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailed Borlaug’s achievement as a “Green Revolution.”

In Pakistan, wheat yields rose from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 8.4 million in 1970. In India, they rose from 12.3 million tons to 20 million. And the yields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5 million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich’s dire predictions in 1968, India’s population has more than doubled, its wheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grown nine-fold. Soon after Borlaug’s success with wheat, his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developed high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolution through most of Asia.

Contrary to Ehrlich’s bold pronouncements, hundreds of millions didn’t die in massive famines. India fed far more than 200 million more people, and it was close enough to self-sufficiency in food production by 1971 that Ehrlich discreetly omitted his prediction about that from later editions of The Population Bomb. The last four decades have seen a “progress explosion” that has handily outmatched any “population explosion.”

Borlaug, who unfortunately is far less well-known than doom-sayer Ehrlich, is responsible for much of the progress humanity has made against hunger. Despite occasional local famines caused by armed conflicts or political mischief, food is more abundant and cheaper today than ever before in history, due in large part to the work of Borlaug and his colleagues.

More than 30 years ago, Borlaug wrote, “One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the world may be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflaged bureaucracy.” As REASON’s interview with him shows, he still believes that environmental activists and their allies in international agencies are a threat to progress on global food security. Barring such interference, he is confident that agricultural research, including biotechnology, will be able to boost crop production to meet the demand for food in a world of 8 billion or so, the projected population in 2025.

The NYT has a piece on him.

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Comments

  • ahrcanum  On September 14, 2009 at 8:36 am

    But will biotechnology companies who dominate food production like Monsanto end up killing the same people they indended to save?

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 14, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      Have they killed anyone yet? The only entity that has been known to kill people is the State, through wars, through mismanagement, through laws and organizations whose intention is to “save” people. The US FDA for example, which keeps medicines off the market till some idiot bureaucrat deems it safe for consumption, denying treatment to people who are willing to risk it.

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