Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century died on Saturday in the US. He was 95.

He was the inventor of the high yielding, disease resistant, varieties of wheat which enabled the Green revolution of the 1960s. While his work benefitted the world – three countries gained the most from his work – Mexico, India and Pakistan. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. India awarded him its second highest civilian honour, Padma Vibushan.

Its quite likely, that unless you are an agricultural scientist yourself, you have never heard of the man. But he would rank right up there with the greatest scientists of the 20th century. It would be hard to find another scientist, even Einstein, whose work directly improved the lives of so many millions of people. For he helped purge the scourge of famine from India and Pakistan. He started his work in Mexico in the early 60s. Between 1965 and 70, his work was mainly in India and Pakistan. During this period wheat yields doubled in both these countries. He , along with others, then replicated this magic in rice. Both these countries have overcome famine ever since.

But think of 1965. India had famine. There was not enough food to eat. If you really want to know what India was facing then, click here. Readers of this blog might be too young to remember PL 480 , but India’s survival depended on this handout from the US. There were endless queues in ration shops – for foodgrain was rationed. Having enough to eat was a luxury.

By 1970, it was a different story. Agricultural yields boomed thanks to the Green Revolution and India became self sufficient in food. And it has never looked back since. There were many heroes – rightfully MS Swaminathan, the father of the Indian Green revolution is idolized as the biggest of them. But globally Norman Borlaug is recognized as the father of the World Green Revolution.

A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled 'The Man Who Fed the World”. “More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world," Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Borlaug. "We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

Norman Borlaug was one of the greatest citizens of the world. For Indians of the yester generation, he was the “annadaata”, as the Times of India calls him in today’s obituary. We may have forgotten him, but the nation, and indeed the world, should remember with gratitude today, a true hero.