Goodbye to the man who fed a billion people

From John Collier: A few years ago, for her 3rd grade “States of the USA” project, my daughter picked the Hawkeye State – Iowa. Many people view Iowa as just one vast corn field stuck between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, but my daughter likes Iowa because the state does have many interesting facets. Her presentation was in the form of a game show similar to “Jeopardy!” and she asked questions such as…

  1. What starship captain of the USS Enterprise will be born in Riverside, Iowa in the year 2233?” (Answer:James T. Kirk)
  2. “This famous Iowa native won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on developing new and higher-yielding varieties of wheat, which reduced the likelihood of famine in developing countries. Who was this Green Revolution pioneer?”

The answer to question #2 is “Norman Borlaug”, who died on September 12th, 2009 at the age of 95.

Norman BorlaugWhile doing the research on Dr. Borlaug, my family became fascinated by the story of his life: How he lived in other countries and did research to increase crop yields, how he helped stop almost certain famine in parts of Asia (thereby saving possibly up to a billion lives) and how – to the best of our knowledge – he may be the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a rap song written specifically in his honor.

Like most kids, there are some days when young Norman didn’t want to go to school. His grandfather Nels told him: “Norm-boy, it’s better to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later.”

If there was ever an major intersection between science and public policy, figuring out how to feed our teaming (and increasing) billions surely is it. The words of Norman Borlaug’s grandfather were important 90 years ago, and even more important today.

Image credit:  AgBioWorld