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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug dies at 95

Norman Borlaug, widely described as the father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution, has died at 95. He grew up in Iowa in the dust bowl years of the 1930’s.

Dr. Borlaug’s advances in plant breeding led to spectacular success in increasing food production in Latin America and Asia and brought him international acclaim. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Borlaug’s remarks on the occasion of the acceptance of the Nobel Prize struck me as truly profound and visionary.

Here are excerpts of his acceptance speech. “I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am but one member of that vast army and so I want to share not only the present honour but also the future obligations with all my companions in arms, for the Green Revolution has not yet been won….. It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better during the past three years. But tides have a way of flowing and then ebbing again. We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts…. There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind”.

In his Nobel lecture he had this to say of the then nascent CGIAR system. “The international centres were developed to supplement national agricultural research, production, and training programs, not to replace them. The centres are but one link in the worldwide network of organizations attacking basic food-crop production problems on a worldwide, regional, national, and local level. The backbone of this network is now and must continue to be the national programs. These must be given greater financial support and strengthened staff-wise to meet the challenge of rapidly expanding food needs for the future”.

I had the honour of meeting him in his capacity as President of Sasakawa Africa Association (SSA). Dr. Borlaug will be remembered in Africa for his leadership of SAA and for his pioneering thoughts on the possibility of an African Green Revolution.

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