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Father of Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, Dies at 95 227

Posted by timothy
from the a-billion-here-a-billion-there dept.
countincognito writes "Norman Borlaug, a genuinely remarkable man and the father of the Green Revolution in agriculture, has died of cancer at his Dallas home aged 95. His life's work on developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops has been credited with having saved an estimated one billion people from famine, and one billion hectares of forest and rainforest from being cleared for agricultural production."
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Father of Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, Dies at 95

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  • Public Enemy #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluesatin (1350681) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:07PM (#29406731)

    And probably now heralded by most 'green' supporters as some sort of horrific monster that messed with nature to create these crops.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by otis wildflower (4889)

      http://www.openmarket.org/2007/10/23/cockburns-cockamamie-slur-on-norman-borlaug/ [openmarket.org]

      So many idiots, so few plastic shredders...

    • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kell Bengal (711123) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:16PM (#29406779)
      And yet he undoubtedly saved millions from starvation through his work. The green nutters won't even think about it. They probably have no idea what was done to produce these crops - they wouldn't even care.

      Scientists and engineers help find answers and solutions, radicals and reactionaries just complain. When they have a better solution for feeding the world, I'll take them seriously.

      • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 32771 (906153) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:44PM (#29407019) Journal

        >radicals and reactionaries just complain

        Well fed people are notoriously difficult subjects to be dragged into a revolution.
        So they don't just complain, they are worried about their loss of power.

        • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Kell Bengal (711123) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:56PM (#29407103)
          I wonder if that's true, though. I don't think many green protesters have a vested interest in keeping the world hungry. I suspect it's more that they want a cause to advocate, an issue to get angry about. It's much easier to get angry at a single identifiable corporation than it is to be angry at the faceless global economics that spawns hunger in the first place.

          Furthermore I suspect that it's not them trying to protect their own power, but rather their attempt to feel powerful - to feel like they can make a difference when faced with forces that really are beyond their control. Demonstrate, hold a picket, get a law passed, go home and enjoy the high standard of living they now don't have to feel so guilty about because they scored a point for the team.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by 32771 (906153)

            I don't think so either but I'm forever puzzled about the motives of the greens.

            I think, ultimately we have to make sure we understand how earth is supposed to look like and how we are going to keep it close to that.

            Sometimes the greens are too averse to any human endeavour and often enough use the irrational fears people harbour, for political goals. Granted other parties do so as well, but somehow I have the impression some green groups activities are counter productive.

            I can't rule out that I'm seeing it

          • Whilst letting the billions of people who live in undeveloped areas just starve isn't an answer, neither is destroying out environment to produce enough crops to feed billions up billions of humans when Earth can longer sustain our population.... The key to world hunger isn't food. It's a combination of better (and more environmentally stable) production, so we have less pollution, better crop yields, and a more sustained environment (so we can remove the fear of major climate change), contraception and b
      • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Seumas (6865) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:34PM (#29408217)

        More like billions.

        Borloug has to be the most influential and under-appreciated man who has ever lived and most will never know or care, because he doesn't have a sex-tape, play basketball or football, or star in movies.

        Borloug has not only been on my list of heroes for a very long time, but has been on my list of "guys who will die in the next decade or two during my lifetime that I am dreading."

        The world could never possibly thank Borloug enough. If anyone deserves his own holiday, it's this man. If anyone deserves statues and his face on currency and battleships named after him. It's this man.

        That such an amazing man who contributed so much in his life died not of old age, but of *cancer* is evidence that there can be no great deity out there watching over everything. If any man deserved a peaceful, painless, quick passing it was this man.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:13PM (#29406757)

    A bit of an emendation:

    His life's work on developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops and giving them away for free...

    That's what fundamentally made him a good recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He made high-yield new seeds, and encouraged farmers to use them, spread them, replant them in subsequent years, etc., giving them greater food security and freedom. He didn't, to the contrary, patent them, prohibit [monsanto.com] replanting seeds in subsequent years, and so on. That would have still increased crop yields, but would've made farmers dependent on Borlaug to buy seeds every year, which was the opposite of his intention.

    • by reporter (666905) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:42PM (#29407001) Homepage
      The invention, by Norman Borlaug, of disease-resistant crops only delayed the symptoms of the core problem: overpopulation.

      Without his contribution, one billion people would have died of famine, and one billion hectares of forest would have been cleared. In other words, the ecosystem could only sustain one billion fewer people, and the existing population would have cleared one billions hectares of forest.

      With his contribution, the ecosystem now sustains that additional 1 billion: the total number of mouths is 6 billion. There is now not a need to clear that additional billion hectares of forest.

      However, the population continues to grow. It will reach such a size that famine will kill one billion people and that hunger will force the clearing of an additional billion hectares of forest.

      Overpopulation is the root cause of many problems: energy shortage, famine, global warming, etc. The 4 horsemen of the apocalypse are approaching. We can already hear the hooves of the horses.

      • Ok, Chicken Little (Score:5, Interesting)

        by linzeal (197905) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:55PM (#29407095) Homepage Journal
        There is no such thing as overpopulation that can't be solved by re-engineering our cities/factories and changing our lifestyles. Yes, other species and ecosystems will be be strained and always have been by growing human populations but the idea that the earth can only sustain a certain amount of humans is both naive and absurd. The biomass during this epoch is far less than the Triassic and Jurassic periods when huge 20 ton monsters roamed the country eating a good part of their body weight per day. This went on for 10's of millions of years. Even Americans aren't that big yet. According to the 1970's chicken littles like yourself we should all be dead by now. Well, um that didn't happen because technology solved many of the problems that were emerging at the time and we will continue solving them contrary to naysayers like yourself.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Threni (635302)

          > There is no such thing as overpopulation that can't be solved by re-engineering our cities/factories and changing our lifestyles.

          I'm not sure how you solve the problem of the estimated population of the earth in, say, 200 years if it continues increasing at the current rate. Quite apart from questions about the source of food and energy, packing more and more people into towns and cities is going to produce quite a lot of social problems when there is no countryside to escape from all the noise and po

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by VJ42 (860241) *

            I'm not sure how you solve the problem of the estimated population of the earth in, say, 200 years if it continues increasing at the current rate.

            People were famously worrying [wikipedia.org] about overpopulation 200 years ago, I'm sure that 200 years in the future, we won't have run into a Malthusian Catastrophe, but people will still be worrying that we might.

            • by Hatta (162192) *

              I think we're pretty safe for the next 200 years. But what about the next 200,000?

          • by Quothz (683368)

            I'm not sure how you solve the problem of the estimated population of the earth in, say, 200 years if it continues increasing at the current rate.

            If I were a betting man, I'd put my chips on nanotechnology to handle the bulk of it. But lots of people have proposed - and are working on - quite a few plausible solutions, including, but not limited to, colonization of other planets, arcologies on- and off-planet, and more efficient production of energy and crops.

            Nobody's sure how it will be solved, but your lack of ideas appears to stem from a lack of looking for them.

        • by Hatta (162192) *

          There is no such thing as overpopulation that can't be solved by re-engineering our cities/factories and changing our lifestyles.

          There's only so much energy we receive from the sun, and only so much available land. Population growth is not infinitely sustainable. At some point (not necessarily soon) there will be overpopulation. It may happen at 10 billion people, it may happen at 100 billion people, but it will happen. Ignoring this fact will not make it go away.

          • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Sycraft-fu (314770)

            Your assumption is based on the idea that the only energy we can receive is from the sun, and the only land we can populate is Earth. Why is that the case? While we can't currently populate other worlds, it seems pretty stupid to declare we'll never be able to. We have no idea what our future technology will make possible. However, it is fair to say, that it'll be far and above what we have now, including some things that are inconceivable at this point.

            There is no reason that overpopulation will happen. It

        • He makes an excellent point.

        • by wytcld (179112) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:05PM (#29409213) Homepage

          "The prediction of a problem from too [much|little] ___ is naive because 100 years ago ___, and 20 years ago ___ predicted the same thing, and it has never come to pass. Since it has never yet ___, it is only reasonable to expect that it never will. Those who are warning us against it are obviously fulfilling their own [psychological|political] need, rather than being useful contributors to the public conversation about the real dangers that may be ahead of us."

          The wonderful thing about this formula is that it always works; until it doesn't. The vast majority of people living comfortably in modern civilization (only a minority of people currently living, but still a large number) has no personal memory of serious effects from too much or too little of anything. And we certainly are comforted to be told that we don't have to listen to those warning us of possible trouble ahead. There's a good living to be made by telling us what we want to hear. Even the nonprofessionals can get praised at dinner party conversations and modded up at /. by helping make sure we don't suffer from too little comforting about how the danger from ___ obviously won't come to pass, just because it hasn't yet, and [God|science] loves us, and our comfort will never be spoiled.

      • And crop yields are still going up (thank you technology). Overpopulation is bad. But since we keep expanding the number of people we can support without overpopulating the planet, and Paul Ehrlich was wrong about the population bomb, there's still hope to save the planet and not be party to mass starvations that exceed anything we've seen up till now in human history by an order of magnitude.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Overpopulation is the root cause of many problems: energy shortage, famine, global warming, etc. The 4 horsemen of the apocalypse are approaching. We can already hear the hooves of the horses.

        Good. Let them come. When they're here, science will kick their assess too.

    • His work was funded by the US Government, the Mexican Government, and the Rockefeller foundation among others. Seeds, like software, do more good for more people when they're free. But if we want more Norman Borlaugs, we (the public) need to support their research and their outreach to the farmers who need their help. Otherwise all the new breakthroughs will be made by for-profic companies like Monsanto with the negative intellectual property consequences you mention.

      The best example of this I can think of
    • Perspective, please (Score:3, Informative)

      by mangu (126918)

      He didn't, to the contrary, patent them, prohibit replanting seeds in subsequent years, and so on.

      True, but that was possible only because his work was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Ironically, the biggest "robber baron" the world ever saw started a philantropic foundation that made possible the work of Dr. Norman Borlaug.

    • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:12PM (#29409573)

      He didn't, to the contrary, patent them, prohibit [monsanto.com] replanting seeds in subsequent years, and so on.

      I for one can't wait for the day when we see large scale open source GMO crops, and we can be done with the Monsnato thing for good. Many anti-GMO arguements are, at their core, not scientific in nature, but anti-corporate/anti-patent (both, of course, involving Monsanto). And that's sad that a legitimate and viable technology with so much potential should be forced to be weighed down with that sort of stuff.

  • by plopez (54068) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:17PM (#29406787) Journal

    Sooner or later you hit a limiting resource. Land, water, energy etc. A better investment would have birth control and birth control education.

    • by Courageous (228506) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:23PM (#29406851)

      First world nations tend to have negative population growth rates, except by immigration influx, or population growth amongst recent-generation immigrants.

      C//

      • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:05PM (#29407177) Homepage
        The example of certain welfare states shows that this is true only for a time. Eventually, once the government makes it effortless to raise children, birthrates start going back up. There was an article in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's biggest newspaper, a week or so ago about this. Finland provides clothes, meals, books and even a cradle for every child, and maternity leave is generous. Parents don't have to make many sacrifices at all to rear children here.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ShooterNeo (555040)
          Which is rather smart on behalf of Finland. The middle and upper class of the country might gripe at the higher taxes, but what's really important? Letting the wealthier folks blow their money on SUVs and oversized houses or making sure their people don't become drowned by a flood of immigrants.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rhsanborn (773855)
          This is intentional. Negative growth is a problem for a country. They need a workforce to continue to survive and maintain their aged population. Many European countries are creating programs that encourage procreation for exactly this purpose.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)
      Yes, but once we reach this goal, it will certainly be better to produce the necessary amount of food using just the necessary minimum of arable land. In other words, just because we still don't have good batteries for our electric cars does not necessarily mean that we will stop improving our electric motors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020)


      Sooner or later you hit a limiting resource. Land, water, energy etc.

      Which is the same theory Thomas Malthus [wikipedia.org] had in the early 1800s. Fortunately for us he turned out to be wrong.

      A better investment would have birth control and birth control education.

      People don't have a lot of children because they don't understand what birth control is. People have a lot of children in high mortality rate parts of the world to guarantee some of them will live to adulthood. Part of the mortality rate is from malnutrition.

      • by plopez (54068)

        Anywhere you have a limiting resource, Malthus is right. Water, potable water, enough arable land, food, proper distribution of food Malthus is right.

        In those situations you have 2 choices; misery or live within those resource boundaries.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Vellmont (569020)

          Malthus argued that we can never rise above subsistence poverty because the population will always expand to consume the resources. He was wrong about that since he didn't foresee people voluntarily controlling birth rates once their children gained the ability to survive with a high likelihood.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by plopez (54068)

            Not true. See Mormons, Catholics and some other religous groups who are in wealthy developed nations and yet maintain high birth rates.

            • by 32771 (906153)

              Yup, a flat earth could technically be infinite in size.

              • If the universe was Euclidean. Which it is not.

                • by 32771 (906153)

                  Great, let me challenge the existence of gravity then. Man naturally is sucked into hell and to make things more interesting the gods inserted a layer of arbitrary thickness and infinite extension called earth into the heaven/hell boundary.

                  Infinite, because they really wanted to be sure.

          • by Kjella (173770)

            From what I've understood it's more about social security, let's face it not that long ago being old and childless was rather nasty. In practice you depended on your children for economic support, caring for you and if you didn't have anyone there was really noone to take care of you. With more children you split the burden, of course higher survival rates lowers the risk but I don't think that's the main driver. These days it can still be lonely and I'm not saying the minimum pension is great, but most peo

      • Which is the same theory Thomas Malthus had in the early 1800s. Fortunately for us he turned out to be wrong.

        No, you're assuming too short of a time scale for the experiment.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dbet (1607261)
      By that logic, saving any life is just delaying the inevitable since you don't actually make them immortal.

      Everything that makes life better for more people is only delaying the inevitable, that doesn't mean it isn't good or isn't worthy of recognition.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bkpark (1253468)

      Sooner or later you hit a limiting resource. Land, water, energy etc. A better investment would have birth control and birth control education.

      I don't know about you, but sooner or, for example, 200 years later does seem like a big difference.

      I certainly wouldn't be alive today if Malthusian prediction came true in his time, and I personally might go through a lot of hardship (even in U.S. high food cost has its prices) today if it hadn't been for the Green Revolution.

      And who knows? Maybe if we delay "the inevitable" long enough we can leave this rock and find resources in far flung places. I suppose then some wise guy will say that the free energ

  • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:17PM (#29406791)
    Just so slashdotters are aware, Norman Borlaug acted primarily as a humanitarian. His goals often intersected with common sense efforts in ecological preservation and education, but don't go off misinterpreting his "Green Revolution" as an environmental movement just because of the word Green. His greatest goals and achievements were the alleviation of human suffering and famine, and he typically pursued environmental goals as methods of achieving this, not as ends in themselves.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597)

      In a political sense I agree he wasn't part of any mainstream environmental movement, but from his writings, he was clearly interested in environmental issues, and they were one of his motivating factors as well. In particular, two of his goals were to: 1) slow down deforestation by increasing yield of existing farmland; and 2) reduce the usage of pesticides by engineering hardier crops.

    • I'm pretty sure most people who want to "save the planet" are actually motivated by a need to make sure the Earth continues to be habitable by human beings. The Earth isn't going anywhere for a few billion years even if we cause catastrophic nuclear winter or global warming. Humanity is a lot more fragile.

      In that sense, they're just as "selfish" as Norman Borlaug. Then again, nobody else has been credited with saving one billion lives that I know of, so anybody who remotely suggests he's selfish is being

  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:29PM (#29406899)

    That's 10,000,000 km^2 or larger than Canada, only Russia is larger [wikipedia.org].

    That page mentions this: The total land area of the world is 148,940,000 km2 (57,510,000 sq mi)[3] (about 29.1% of the Earth's surface area).. In other words, what he did prevented the clearing of 6.7 percent of the Earth's surface for agriculture.

    I find that figure a little difficult to believe, but I don't know that much about agriculture or what kind of impact deforestation for agriculture has. I did find this bit on forests [wikipedia.org] though:

    These plant communities presently cover approximately 9.4% of the Earth's surface (or 30% of total land area)

    So what he did saved about 20% of the total forested areas from clearing.

    Again, a bit difficult to believe, but whatever.

    • by vlm (69642) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:02PM (#29407151)

      I find that figure a little difficult to believe, but I don't know that much about agriculture or what kind of impact deforestation for agriculture has.

      I suspect you've never chopped down a tree or pulled a stump? Logging is hard work with western mechanization, but in third world conditions, doing it by hand must be unbelievably difficult.

      For some background, check out the wikipedia link "In Pakistan, wheat yields nearly doubled, from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 7.3 million tons in 1970"

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug#Expansion_to_South_Asia:_The_Green_Revolution [wikipedia.org]

      If you want to double your production (and who doesn't?) its pretty hard to justify the immense effort of clearing land, when you can simply import genetically superior seeds...

      • I wasn't doubting what he did was a good thing, nor am I questioning the "billion lives saved". I'm just questioning the billion hectares/10 million km^2 figures. I'm questioning the figure which is quoted from someone's speech to congress.

        The billion lives I can believe with the amount of people living in 3rd world countries and the population growth they have. But preventing deforestation of 20% of the world's forests? That figure I doubt.

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:11PM (#29407211)

      His work increased the yields of most major crops by a factor of 4. That simply means that in order to get the same food output you would have to increase the amount of land under cultivation by a factor of 4.

      That this would exceed the area of Canada should not be a great surprise.

      The environmental and human impact of this work is left as an exercise to the reader.

      Borlaug is firmly in the running as the greatest human benefactor.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:02PM (#29407155)

    ... is no more.

    Future generations will scarcely believe that such a man walked the earth.

  • "His life's work on developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops has been credited with having saved an estimated one billion people from famine..." ...allowing them to give birth to, and raise to adulthood, an estimated 2-3 billion more people, who in turn...

  • Awards (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:13PM (#29408051)

    Bolaug is one of two Americans and the only scientist to have won:

    The Congressional Gold Medal
    The Presidential Medal of Freedom
    The Nobel Peace Prize

    The other winners are Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel.

    The following is a list of Norman E. Borlaug's major awards and honors:

    - Nobel Peace Prize, 1970.

    - Election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1970 and nine Foreign Academies.

    - Aztec Eagle, Government of Mexico, 1970.

    - Outstanding Agricultural Achievement Award, World Farm Foundation (USA), 1971.

    - Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA), 1977.

    - Jefferson Award, American Institute for Public Service, 1980.

    - Distinguished Achievement Award in Food and Agricultural Sciences, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (USA), 1982.

    - The Presidential World without Hunger Award: Educator/Scientist category (USA), 1985.

    - The 1988 Americas Award, The Americas Foundation (USA).

    - Jefferson Lifetime Achievement Award (USA), 1997.

    - Altruistic Green Revolution Award, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1998.

    - Recognition Award for Contributions to World Wheat and Maize Research and Production, Republic of El Salvador, 1999.

    - Dedication of Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement, Texas A&M University, 1999.

    - Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Foundation (USA), 2000.

    - Memorial Centennial Medial of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry (Russia), 2000.

    - Public Welfare Medal, National Academy of Sciences (USA), 2002.

    - The 2002 Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace, Barcelona, Spain.

    - The Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2002.

    - Award for Distinguished Achievements to Science and Medicine, American Council of Science and Health, 2003.

    - National Medal of Science (USA), 2004.

    - Padma Vibhushan in Science and Engineering, awarded by the Government of India, 2006.

    - Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture created as part of the Texas A&M University System, 2006.

    - Congressional Gold Medal, 2006.

    - Honorary Degrees:

    Punjab Agricultural University (India), 1969
    Royal Norwegian Agricultural College (Norway), 1970
    Luther College (USA), 1970
    Kanpur University (India), 1970
    Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University (India), 1971
    Michigan State University (USA), 1971
    Universidad de la Plata (Argentina), 1971
    University of Arizona (USA), 1972
    University of Florida (USA), 1973
    Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile), 1974
    Universität Hohenheim (Germany), 1976
    Punjab Agricultural University, (Pakistan), 1978
    Columbia University, (USA), 1980
    Ohio State University (USA), 1981
    University of Minnesota (USA), 1982
    University of Notre Dame (USA), 1987
    Oregon State University (USA), 1988
    University of Tulsa (USA), 1991
    Washington State University (USA) 1995
    Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University (India), 1996
    Indian Agricultural Research Institute (India), 1996
    De Montfort University, (United Kingdom), 1997
    Emory University, (U.S.A) 1999
    University of the Philippines, 1999
    University of Missouri, (USA), 2002
    Williams College, (USA), 2002
    Wartburg College (USA), 2003
    Dartmouth College (USA), 2005

    Doctor of Agricultural Sciences:
    University of Agricultural Sciences (Godollo, Hungary), 1980
    Tokyo University of Agriculture (Japan), 1981
    Doctor en Ciencias Agropecuarias Honoris Causa, Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Turena, República Dominicana, 1983
    Doctor en Ciencias, Honoris Causa Universidad Central del Este de la República Dominicana, 1983

    Doctor Humane Letters:
    Gustavus Adolphus College (USA), 1971
    Iowa State University (USA), 1992
    Cape Coast University (Ghana), 2000

    Doctor of Law:
    New Mexico State University (USA), 1973

    Doctor of Agriculture:

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