Happy Birthday Norm
When we started The Borlaug Blog in 2016, it was a way to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the World Food Prize, to write down the stories of our hunger fighters and tell the world about our founder, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug and I did not imagine that my idea would become a weekly feature and such an important part of our World Food Prize mission. Today as we publish the 100th Borlaug Blog, is it most fitting that we take a moment to reflect and honor the Borlaug legacy and those individuals who have fought against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
In retrospect, the global observance of the centennial of Dr. Borlaug’s birth in 2014 stands out as an extraordinary series of events to honor the legacy of that Iowa farm-boy who changed the world. For me, the most meaningful moment came on March 25, of that year, the exact 100th anniversary of his birth, when Dr. Borlaug’s statue was unveiled in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. It was my extraordinary privilege to have been appointed by Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad to be the chair of the Borlaug Statue Committee that selected the artist to create the statue and raised all of the funds needed for the project.
Today, March 25, as we observe the 5th anniversary of the installation of that statue and the 105th anniversary of his birth, the World Food Prize is looking back on Dr. Borlaug’s achievements in confronting hunger and promoting peace. We are opening the doors to our Hall of Laureates building for a FREE open house from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Visitors can take tours of the building, enjoy a children’s story time and discover the galleries with art talks by several of our Iowa Gallery Artists. For more information and a schedule of the day long series of events, visit: www.HallofLaureates.org/BorlaugBirthday.
Exhibiting the virtues he learned growing up, Dr. Borlaug traveled the world to promote greater attention to, and investment in, education, agricultural research, and rural infrastructure (like roads and information technology). Norm believed all these elements are essential if we are to have the next “Green Revolution,”—the one which will lift the remaining one billion people out of the misery of malnutrition and end pandemic hunger.
Dr. Borlaug was the only agricultural scientist ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, yet he remains one of its least known recipients. In 2001, I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel with Norm to Norway for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Nobel Prize. There was an amazing array of former Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Elie Wiesel. But, as I sat in City Hall in Oslo with Norm and the many other Peace Laureates who had returned for the Nobel Centennial Celebration, I reflected on how ironic it was that his name was so little recognized, since he had probably saved more lives than all of the other more celebrated honorees put together.
Further supporting the importance of Dr. Borlaug and his vision, just one month after his passing in 2009, at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, Bill Gates, announced his ambition to bring the Green Revolution to Africa. In the ten years since his first speech on global agriculture, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated substantially to Borlaug endeavors. At the World Food Prize, Bill Gates said:
“Like all of you, when I made my plans to attend this symposium, I had hoped to be able to see Dr. Borlaug.
His passing is cause for sadness, but his life should make us optimistic. In the middle of the 20th century, experts predicted famine and starvation, but they turned out to be wrong – because they did not predict Norman Borlaug. He not only showed humanity how to get more food from the earth – he proved that farming has the power to lift up the lives of the poor.
We have the tools. We know what needs to be done. We can be the generation that sees Dr. Borlaug’s dream fulfilled – a world free of hunger.” - Bill Gates, October 15, 2009 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium
Dr. Borlaug’s vision has reached so many. I saw firsthand how his legacy endures in Africa when in 2014 I traveled to Uganda for the Sasakawa Africa Association celebration of the centennial of Norm's birth. As I walked through that country's National Agricultural Fair, I observed that the theme of this event was taken from Norm's very last words, words which best sum up his life long mission -- “Take it to the Farmer.”
Dr. Borlaug's legacy commemorated in so many disparate places in the world from Mexico, to India, to Iran, clearly demonstrates that confronting hunger can bring people together across even the widest political, national, ethnic, religious, or diplomatic differences.
When I arrived in Iowa in 2000 to assume leadership of the World Food Prize, few Iowans had ever heard of Norman Borlaug. Now, Norman Borlaug finally has his rightful place in history as one of the world’s greatest agricultural scientists and humanitarians ever to live. He is the man of whom is said “he saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived”.
Happy Birthday Norm!