09/16/2009, 00.00

The man who saved India from famine: Norman Borlaug

CT Nilesh
He saved almost 245 million people from dying of hunger with his discovery-invention of a “semi-dwarf” wheat plant variety with a shorter, compact stalk. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian Indian award.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - On the 12th of September, Norman Borlaug, died at 95in Dallas, USA, the scientist-pacifist, the father of the green revolution that, when it was brought to India, removed for ever the danger of starvation and famine. Around the time Borlaug arrived in India in the mid-1960s, the specter of famine, shortages, and starvation hung over the sub-continent, the latest one was in 1964. India was importing huge quantities of food grains from the US – much of it dole – to feed its growing millions.

Then came Borlaug, a strapping, self-made, sun burnt  American from the farmland of Iowa, who did his studies in plant pathology and genetics from the university of Minnesota in the early forties.  Then he spent more than a decade in Mexico applying his research and Mexico became a net wheat exporter in 1963.

The miracle he had worked out in Mexico was replicated in India with the result that its granaries began to overflow and more and more people in India, accustomed to eat rice, only rice and always rice, started eating more chapatti, nan, roti, pau and sliced bread. In Pakistan too wheat yields doubled.

By cranking up a wheat strain containing an unusual gene, Borlaug created the so-called “semi-dwarf” plant variety with a shorter, compact stalk that supported an enormous head of grain without falling over from the weight. This curious principle of shrinking the plant to increase the output from the acreage, resulted in Indian farmers eventually quadrupling their wheat and later, rice production. This was the secret of the Green Revolution.

Borlaug disdained all awards and honors even making light of the Nobel Peace Prize when his Swedish forbears, in 1970, recognized his enormous contribution to mankind: the whole world benefited from his pioneering work in Mexico.

 “More than any other person of this age,” the Nobel citation read, “he helped provide bread for a hungry world. We also made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace”.  According to some estimates Borlaug’s invention saved around 245 million people from dying of hunger.

He was also recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian Indian award.

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