Great Men You Have Never Heard Of: Norman Borlaug

Image taken from: Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation

Throughout history there have been great men. George Washington, leading the Continental Army to victory in the American Revolution. Jonas Salk, created the Polio vaccine. Gandhi, non-violently fought for Indian independence. Albert Einstein, seriously advancing physics in 'recent' years. All of these men are commonly known and are considered great. Sadly though there are a whole class of men who are great and yet you have never heard of them before. To me this is not just a shame, this is an outrage. So to help rectify this situation I present to you: Great Men That You Never Heard Of.

Norman Borlaug

Born on March 25, 1914, in Saude, Iowa. He was born and raised on his family's farm where they grew corn, oats, timothy grass, as well as raise cattle, pigs and chickens. He decided to pursue higher education at the prodding of his grandfather who told him, “You're wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on.” He enrolled in the University of Minnesota in 1933. One of the Jobs that he took was with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Many of his co-workers were starving and he saw how having food changed a person. He received a Bachelors of Science in forestry in 1937. After seeing a lecture about plant pathology by Elvin Charles Stakman, he continued his education and in 1940 he got his Masters of Science and in Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics in 1942.

In 1944 he joined the Cooperative Wheat Research Production Program, which was designed to increase the wheat production in Mexico. At the time Mexico was importing a large portion of it's grain. Borlaug bred wheat varieties that were stronger, disease resistant, and yielded more wheat than before. He also took advantage of Mexico's two growing seasons by breading the wheat in the north then transporting them some 700 miles south where they would be grown. By 1963, 95% of the wheat varieties in Mexico were developed by Borlaug. The harvest was also six times as large as it was back in 1944. Mexico has since become a net exporter of wheat. He continued his work in India and Pakistan, increasing the net yield of wheat.

In 1970, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Norwegian officials notified his wife of the honor who was in Mexico City at 4 A.M., but Borlaug had already left for his test fields some 40 miles away. A chauffeur took her out there, and when she told him that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize he said, “No I haven't.” From there she had to convince him that the whole thing was not a hoax.

His work was not without criticism, though. Some criticize his work because genetic crossbreeding is unnatural or has negative effects. He was also criticized for reducing biodiversity by planting fewer strains of plants. Most of the claims that were leveled against him he just dismissed, however he did take some of them seriously.

All right, so he produced higher yielding wheat. Big deal, right. Many people could eat because of this. So how many people did he save? Norman Borlaug has saved over 245 million lives world wide. That's right, 245 million people.

Sadly, Norman Borlaug passed away September 12, 2009. So the next time you are at the pub, in the cafeteria, or even by yourself, call for some quiet, and raise a glass of your preferred beverage for Norman Borlaug.


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Tags: borlaug, great, men, norman


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Comment by James! on September 21, 2009 at 10:56am
Interesting guy. I never knew of him.
Comment by Leo on September 20, 2009 at 10:42pm
I was flipping out when people said nothing about his death, yet Patrick Swayze made a lot of noise.

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