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In memory of one of the giants of Agricuture
Mar 29, 2014
There was an important century anniversary celebrated this past week, and outside of Agricultural publications I suspect it was missed by most of this nation. The 25th of March marked what would have been the 100th birthday of the biologist Dr. Norman Borlaug. I believe you can tell much about a society by the "heroes" or role models that are lifted up. I suspect that if you queried a random sampling of citizens of this country, many would have heard about Kim and Kanye being displayed for all to see on the latest cover of Vogue or the most recent shock antics of Lady Gaga, but the name Borlaug would likely be greeted with a blank stare. This is very unfortunate. We are talking about an individual who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (back when it actually meant you had accomplished something), the Presidential Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Padma Vibhushan award, which is the second highest civilian award given in India. Dr. Borlaug is often referred to as the father of the "Green Revolution" and between the 1940’s and 1960’s pioneered research in hybridization, cross breeding and modern farming techniques, and is credited with saving literally over a billion lives throughout the world.
This is not to say that his birthday escaped unnoticed or without celebration. In Washington, DC a statue of Dr. Borlaug was unveiled at the National Statuary Hall in the Capital. The event was attended by leaders from both the House and Senate, members of the Borlaug family and of course many representatives from Iowa, where he was originally from. But somehow, this event seemed to miss the headline news in print or on television.
This is unfortunate at so many levels. As I touched on initially, it appears to be just another reflection of what our society values in our role models. But it is also indicative of the lack of understanding that much of our citizens have concerning where food comes from and the challenges that the world will confront as we march towards what is projected to be an increase of over 28% in population; between now and 2050 the population is projected to increase by another 2 billion to somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 billion people. It is also indicative of the less than effective job that we in agriculture have done in educating people about the need for continued advances in the technology of farming, be that in genetics, the use of fertilizer and chemicals, or even water. Companies like Chipotle can make a big PR splash and be hailed for taking a so-called ethical stand against big agri-business, but how many of their clients paying for overpriced burritos actually understands delicate balance that exists for many around the world between starvation and existence? How many understand the economics of yield and the need to squeeze ever more quantity from a little amount of soil if there is any hope of keeping pace with demand? Out of sight, out of mind and all the more reason that stories like that of Dr. Borlaug need to be impressed on those outside of agriculture to hopefully garner a little more understanding and even appreciation of what it takes to actually put food on tables throughout the world. In a recent interview, Dr. Borlaug’s granddaughter Julie, who worked with him during his final years at Texas A&M, stated that agriculture has to confront the ignorance head-on that exists concerning production agriculture and the industry truly needs to come together to change that. I particularly like her comment that "The reason that we have the lifestyles we have now is because of the advancements in agriculture in the past 100 years. We would not have the lifestyles, we wouldn’t have the education, all of that, if we hadn’t progressed like we have and come out of an agrarian system." You really have to ask how many people actually know or understand this. More importantly, if they do not, why?
So next time someone is commending some celebrity and the latest fad restaurant for their stand on "sustainable" agriculture and how it will make our lives "healthy and enlightened", invite them to really become enlightened and learn about someone who actually provided the gift of life for more than a billion people around the world. Yet somehow I suspect that a picture of Dr. Borlaug will still not make it to the cover of Vogue. www.worldfoodprize.org, www.borlaugleap.org.