From a man who saved millions, insights into feeding the world

Perhaps no individual has done more to save people from hunger and starvation over the past six-plus decades than Norman Borlaug, whose “Green Revolution” in the 1960s helped farmers in developing countries use high-yield technologies to revolutionize grain crops production.

The Iowa farm boy, now 92 years old and still going strong, has spent 62 of those years working in food-deficit countries, in the process helping to save millions of lives, and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and countless other honors.

A new book, The Man Who Fed The World, by Leon Hesser, will be out Sept. 5. It chronicles the life and achievements of this remarkable man, those who've worked with him, and those who are continuing to carry elements of the Green Revolution to areas of the world still confronting food shortages, famine, and starvation.

If you've never had the opportunity to hear Dr. Borlaug, there's a radio interview with him, conducted Aug. 9 by Penn Jillette (the big guy of the show biz team, Penn & Teller), that is well worth the hour of listening time. It's at

Borlaug doesn't mince words when it comes to defending modern agricultural practices. Some comments from the broadcast:

  • “(Despite doomsday predictions) it's possible to produce enough food to feed the predicted 10 billion people of the future. The more difficult problem is distributing that food equitably once it's produced and to be sure we can do it without destroying the environment and to have funding for additional research into new biotechnology and transgenics.”

  • “In 1950, total world production of all major cereal grains was about 620 million tons; in 2000, it was more than 1.9 billion tons. (With conventional technologies) we'd have had to cut down approximately three times as much forest or plowed up three times as much grazing land…to produce a harvest equivalent to 2000. That's how much land high-yield technology saved for Mother Nature.”

  • “If we're interested in tranquil world conditions for our sons, daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, they won't be built on empty stomachs and human misery. When we have widespread misery in many African and Asian countries, it's a very fertile ground for sowing seeds of disruption by extremists.”

  • “(Those against genetically-engineered crops take) a ridiculous position. If we look at the genetic makeup of bread wheat, which constitutes more than 95 percent of all the wheat in the world, it's a natural cross done in pre-history of wild wheat and two other wild grasses, producing the basic chromosome we've used for traditional genetic modification and more recently with transgenics. (Opposition to GMO crops) is a lot of nonsense.”

  • “Same thing with organic versus chemical fertilizers. For God's sake, I've always said, ‘Use all the organic fertilizer that's available, but don't come around Third World nations telling them they can produce all the food they need with organic fertilizer.’ (If we tried to substitute manure for chemical fertilizer) we'd have to increase world cattle population by about six-fold…It's a lot of nonsense, and it comes from people who've never produced one ton of food in their entire lifetime.”

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