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Biotech Earth

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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  • 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.
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:36PM (#29406953)

    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.

  • by MaXintosh (159753) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:40PM (#29406985)
    What you fail to appreciate is that he changed the rules of the game. Where using previous crops, the world could only support x number of people, using his enriched crops, the world could support X+Y people. He increased the efficiency of agriculture, and thereby bushed back the numeric threshold for 'overpopulation' considerably. And since you can get more crops from less land, there was less species depletion, more concentrated land impact, and less ag pollution because of reduced fertilizer needs.

    Are there still problems? Yeah. But this guy was a giant, and too an overwhelming problem and made it a little less insurmountable.
  • 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...

  • 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.
  • 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 bkpark (1253468) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:36PM (#29407375) Homepage

    And since you can get more crops from less land, there was less species depletion, more concentrated land impact, and less ag pollution because of reduced fertilizer needs.

    Despite all the great things about Green Revolution, reduced fertilizer use isn't one of them [wikipedia.org]. The high-yield crops outperform the traditional crops under "certain conditions", and that certain conditions are: (1) high pesticide use, to counteract the possibility of widespread pest due to the monoculture nature of high-yield crops, (2) high fertilizer use, since just basic chemistry tells you that it would need more nutrients to produce more seeds, (3) high water use, for the same reason.

    Green revolution may have helped reduce the overall use of these three things per capita and help concentrate the use to limited area of lands, but I wouldn't be so hasty to claim that without some proof somewhere—and since this is a case of what might have been, chances are, it's hard to prove it one way or another.

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

    by Cadallin (863437) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:44PM (#29407425)
    Yeah, that it.

    It nothing to do with DDT being a known Carcinogen, Neurotoxic, an abortifacient, terratogenic and an Endocrine disruptor in humans. Not a damn thing.

    It doesn't take a conspiracy nut to see all this.

    Why, yes, yes it does.

  • 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:

  • Perspective, please (Score:3, Informative)

    by mangu (126918) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:28PM (#29408179)

    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 rhsanborn (773855) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:43PM (#29408279)
    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.
  • by MaizeMan (1076255) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:03PM (#29409519) Homepage
    Absolutely. The best book I ever read on the subject of what genetic engineering is and isn't is "Mendel in the Kitchen" by Nina Federoff. If that one seems a little too heavy on biology OR if you're already interested in organic agriculture I'd recommend Tomorrow's Table which was written an organic farmer and his wife who's a plant biologist at UC Davis.

    The best article I ever read about Norman Borlaug himself and his contribution to the Green revolution wasthis one. [dallasobserver.com]

    For a better grounding of the problems faced by both conventional ag and conventual organic, read the first two sections of Michael Pollen's the Omnivores Dilemma (you can read the other two sections of the book if you like too, they're just not as relevant). His science and stats are sometimes off, and I don't always agree with his conclusions but it's a fun read.

    There was a BBC documentary that came out last fall called "Jimmy's GM Food Fight" which, if you can track a copy down did about as good a job as possible of summing up the issue in 60 minutes.

    If you're more interested in the history of agriculture than the recent Organic vs Conventional vs GM split, there's a lot of good background in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

    Hope this is helpful. I can cite blogs as well, but it's harder to find ones that are informative rather than pushing an position. Good luck and I wish more people were interested in the subject!
  • by TheSync (5291) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:45PM (#29409731) Journal

    Actually reduced fertilizer use is one of them

    Interestingly, world fertilizer use [findarticles.com] went up from 69 million tons in 1970 to 145 million tons in 1988, more than doubling while population only went up 30%.

    Since then, we've leveled out around 140 million tons with nearly twice the population of 1970, so we are about at the same amount of fertilizer per capita.

  • Re:Not a great man (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheSync (5291) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:50PM (#29409761) Journal

    While I realise you want to suggest that he kills himself, his personal best isn't killing one person, it's killing off a few dozen. Nothing like a trailer park or high school massacre to reduce the local populace.

    You aim so low! Mao starved 30 million people to death during the Great Leap Forward farm collectivization. Think about how many people you can kill if you are a politician!

  • On Terminator Seeds (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaizeMan (1076255) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:47AM (#29411045) Homepage
    Quite simply.

    1. The technology was developed mostly because of environmental concerned about pollen drift. Farmers have been buying hybrid seed since the 1940s.

    2. When the technology was announced, everyone hated it (as you well know). To the point where Monsanto hasn't actually sold a single seed containing the trait. I'm serious.

    Find me a field of commercial (not research) corn or soybeans or cotton or anything else that'll produce nothing by sterile seeds and I'll eat my words. Until then stop spreading the misinformation that'll be mindlessly echoed by poor people like Starcub who trust you.

Get hold of portable property. -- Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations"

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