Dr. Norman E. Borlaug: A Great Hunger Fighter
Dr. Norman Borlaug first met Prof. M. S. Swaminathan when he was very young (age 28) in September of 1953 in Madison, Wisconsin, during the convention of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. There, Prof MSS heard his first scientific presentation on a new approach to control rust disease in wheat, which became the most discussed and admired paper of the convention. Since then, Prof MSS started following Borlaug’s work on wheat breeding.
Using the Norin 10 dwarfing gene from Japan, in 1953 Borlaug developed semi dwarf, high-yielding varieties of wheat that responded well to irrigation and fertilizer application. In 1966, to apply the same strategy supported by Borlaug, India imported 18,000 tons of seeds of various dwarf wheat varieties from Mexico. The result was a jump in wheat production from 12 million tons in 1965 to 17 million tons in 1968. The Green Revolution, a term coined 1968 by William Gaud, remains an astonishing phenomenon that not only boosts productivity but also saves land resources. An important outcome of the wheat revolution triggered by the introduction of the Mexican Dwarf wheat in 1963 is the union of brains and brawn in rural areas. I captured this revolution in an article in the illustrated weekly of India in June 1969 with the following words,“Brimming with enthusiasm, hard-working, skilled and determined, the Punjab farmer has been the backbone of the revolution.”
During the 1960s, researchers Paul and William Paddock said India could not be saved from famine. Paul Ehrlich, in his ‘The Population Bomb,’ predicted that no power on earth could save Indians from mass deaths. Though these were proved wrong, it took plenty of planning, effort and energy to achieve food security. Swaminathan said that he, along with Borlaug, had visited several Indian States in March 1963 to study the ground realities and recommend suitable alternative high yield seeds.
Dr. Borlaug pointed out that between the years 1960 and 2000 the proportion of people who felt hunger during the past year had fallen drastically, yet children often lacked sufficient calories and protein to grow strong and healthy bodies; thus, the battle to ensure food security for hundreds of millions of poor people was far from won. This unfinished task that Norman Borlaug left is being carried forward by Prof M.S. Swaminathan. During his lectures in India to agriculture colleges he told students to “go to the field and not sit in the laboratory.”
If we recall the Nobel Committee’s words while presenting the 1970 Peace Prize to Norman Borlaug: “He had helped provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.” The secret of Borlaug’s success was reflected in his last words on the night of September 12, 2009. Earlier, a scientist had shown him a nitrogen tracer developed for measuring soil fertility; his last words were, “Take the tracer to the farmer.” This lifelong dedication to taking scientific innovations to farmers set Borlaug apart from most farm scientists. Let us emulate his example.
The five principles Borlaug adopted in his life, were:
· Give your best.
· Believe you can succeed.
· Face adversity squarely.
· Be confident, you will find the answers when problems arise.
· Then go out and win some bouts.
These principles have shaped the attitudes and actions of thousands of young farm scientists across the world. Dr. Borlaug applied these principles in the field of science and agricultural development and changed the course of food security. For the scientists of tomorrow, Dr. Borlaug and Prof MSS serve as inspirations of hard work and innovation in science.