Unfortunately, too few people in this country have heard the name Dr. Norman Borlaug. Fewer still who live in urban areas have any idea of the contribution this man has made every time they set down to eat their dinner.
Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to meet a man who has captured, in an interesting way, the contribution that Borlaug has made to the food supply of this earth - and to you and I. This man, Dr. Noel Vietmeyer, lives in Virginia and has authored three biographies of Borlaug. He source of information was associations and working with Borlaug to capture first hand the work he had done.
When we go to the grocery store or supermarket, we expect and do find shelves full of all kinds of foods. The kinds and varieties are limitless, for which we should be thankful. What we don't realize is that back of all the abundance we have is work of dedicated scientists such as Borlaug.
In the early half of the 1900s, our food was produced on farms with a lot of hard labor and low yields from each acre. About 60 to 70 percent of us lived on farms, digging out an existence and producing some extra food to feed a smaller urban population. With little money beyond what was needed to take care of a family, farmers were committed to staying on the farm.
Then along came technology. Tractors, fertilizers, hybrid corn, electricity, agricultural research and agricultural extension and much more. Borlaug, born on a small farm in 1914, experienced farming during a time when it was mostly hard, manual labor. And diseases of crops such as wheat and corn, could come along anytime to destroy those crops planted with all that hard work. He knew what crop losses could do to family income.
With help from people along the way who saw his potential, Borlaug was able to finish high school, go on to college and finally get his doctor's degree.
Working through many handicaps including weather, uncooperative people, and lack of funding, he successfully developed varieties of wheat in Mexico that increased yields from about 300,000 tons a year to more than 5 million tons in just 15 years. He saved agriculture in that country along with feeding millions of people. Over the years, his work on wheat, corn and rice was adapted in many countries around the world, helping reduce famine,
According to Vietmeyer, Borlaug was one who didn't talk much about himself publicly. But he did receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian effort plus hundreds of other awards and honorary degrees. He has helped millions of people
Results of his work continue to this day and are found in the food we eat. His scientific work is an example of the continued need for practical, useable agricultural research if we expect to feed the expanding population in this world.
Borlaug died Sept. 12, 2009. Before then he had a chance to review and approve the basic text of volume three of his biography.
Vietmeyer is also an interesting person. Through his work, he discovered little known varieties of tropical plants that have the potential to help people in poor nations in the world. He has written over 30 books describing innovations that can benefit Africa, Asia and Latin America. It has been a privilege to have a brief contact with him and continuing communication through the computer.
Copies of all three volumes of Borlaug's biography can be ordered from Noel Vietmeyer, 5921 River Drive, Lorton, VA 22079.
Parker is retired from The Ohio State University and is an independent agricultural writer.