The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Improving the Health of Our Planet One Field at a Time

By Karsten Temme
Co-founder and CEO, Pivot Bio

When Dr. Borlaug arrived in Mexico in 1944, wheat crops were being decimated by stem rust. The country imported much of the grain required to feed its hungry population. It was a problem nations across the globe were encountering: advances in medicine and technology meant their citizens were living longer, better lives and governments needed improved food systems to feed bigger populations. Norman Borlaug worked tirelessly to develop resilient wheat varieties and expand access to agricultural technologies in other struggling nations. In doing so, he earned the title “the man who saved a billion lives.”

Some seeds enabling the Green Revolution were sown in the early 20th century thanks to significant advancements in crop fertility by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. In 1910, these German chemists debuted the Haber-Bosch process. For the first time in history, the world had a scalable way to convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia. Cheap, readily available fertilizer quickly helped farmers produce more bountiful harvests. Later, expanding access to fertilizer became emblematic of the Green Revolution, helping fuel the wheat varieties that Dr. Borlaug developed.

Today, we need another revolution to feed a booming population, and Dr. Borlaug’s commitment to building a better world is more salient than ever. The side effects of a century leveraging fertilizers to help increase yields are now threatening the sustainability of our food system. Scientists worldwide have been chasing a better way to provide nitrogen to crops with less environmental harm to our air and waterways. Now, a new opportunity is unfolding to use soil microbes to convert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into a form accessible to plants. My team at Pivot Bio is bringing these breakthroughs to the marketplace, and I’m proud to help innovate efficacious biological alternatives to synthetic fertilizers for farmers.

In the coming decade, our industry should pursue a two-fold mission: strengthening the productivity and resiliency of our food system, as well as investing in the health and growth of farmers the world over. The second point is as important as the first. Both will require a commitment to innovate beyond the status quo. New tools and technologies have the potential to elevate farming practices and food production systems around the world. Similarly, we must invest in education, entrepreneurship and information access to truly equip farmers to succeed, especially in the economies poised for the most rapid growth. A 21st-century agricultural revolution that is focused on the farmer will pay dividends in food security, environmental sustainability and ultimately, economic mobility for farmers worldwide.

When considering that our planet might be home to 11 billion people, microbes may be a small piece of the equation, but as Dr. Borlaug stated, “Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless.” In supporting growers worldwide, we are building a business that we believe honors Dr. Borlaug’s great and lasting legacy.

06/03/2019 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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