Who was Norman Borlaug? Almost no one in America even knows his name, but he was one of the greatest humanitarians who ever lived. Using science he helped change the world by battling world hunger. For his untiring and selfless work Borlaug was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. His innovations in plant genetics and agricultural technique led to increased crop yields and averted mass starvation in India and Pakistan, by supplying the means for these societies to feed themselves. It has been estimated that his work saved a billion lives. (1)
Beginning his scientific research in the 1940's at primitive cooperative fields in Mexico, his work would soon change farming throughout the developing world. New wheat strains were created by crossing Japanese semi-dwarf strains with other high yielding strains. These new strains were then crossed with wheat strains that were adapted to tropical conditions. Though the resulting strains grew faster with higher yields, they were only part of the answer.
By the development of new strategies for irrigation, fertilization and improvements in timing for seed sowing he created a revolution in agricultural production with higher grain yields per unit of land. Eventually this came to be known as the "Green Revolution". (2)
Norman Borlaug was born in rural Iowa on a family farm in 1914. Just two and a half years later, in the fall of 1916, a deadly fungal microbe, known to farmers as black stem rust, penetrated the stalks of wheat plants growing throughout the Midwest into Canada. This caused a shortfall of 200 million bushels of grain. (3) The strain of wheat was the Marqui and it had been developed in Canada to be resistant to stem rust. This strain had survived well for 12 years, but when the rust mutated, crops once again failed.