A role model for the next generation: “The Man Who Fed the World”

In Development, Economics, Environment, Food, History, Life, Life in India, People, Religion by Megan Toombs Kinard0 Comments

The Indian Agricultural Ministry released estimated food grain numbers on Monday, projecting growth despite a drought that has hit eleven states.

That’s great news for Indian farmers, and consumers alike. Even if that estimate is downgraded, there are no projections of major agricultural loss due to the drought — a huge accomplishment in a country that less than 60 years ago was facing mass famine and starvation.

This progress is primarily due to one man, a man almost no one has heard of, a man who should be held up as a role model to our generation, and to all succeeding generations.

His name was Norman Borlaug.

Norman Borlaug grew up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression, attended a one-room schoolhouse, and worked his way through his graduate studies — sometimes taking time off school to work full time.

A Christian, Borlaug felt strongly about the poverty he witnessed growing up, and always wanted to help hungry people.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology and Genetics and began working a stable, well-paying research job at DuPont.

In the midst of that job, supporting a wife and child, and with another child on the way (who subsequently died), Borlaug was approached about a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce a new type of wheat that could feed hungry Mexicans.

As a family, the Borlaugs decided to go to Mexico.

Over the next 20 years, Borlaug revolutionized wheat production, spending hours in the fields, creating thousands of varieties of wheat, fighting tooth and nail for changes he thought necessary, and training many agricultural technicians from all over the world.

In the early 1960s, India and Pakistan were on the brink of massive famine. By this point, Mexico had gone from a shortfall of wheat to exporting it.

The Asian countries took notice and invited Borlaug to come and help them. Throughout the 1960s, he took numerous trips to India and Pakistan, trained agricultural technicians, pushed for free-market policies including market prices for farmers, and not only revolutionized the farming industry but also was the catalyst for massive changes in economic policies.

Leon Hesser, in his book The Man Who Fed the World, recounts two separate stories of Borlaug being extremely blunt with very powerful leaders in India and Pakistan. In one instance he was so honest with the Deputy Prime Minister of India about poor economic policies that he feared being thrown out of the country.

But that did not stop him from speaking truth.

Those bad policies were changed, the wheat grew, the farmers were paid market prices (higher than the price caps the governments previously imposed to support urbanization), and the people ate.

Credited with saving a billion lives, Norman Borlaug won numerous awards throughout his life, including the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Vannevar Bush Award, the Public Welfare Medal, the National Medal of Science, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor.

This is the type of person we should honor as a role model, not a movie or pop star, or a sports player — though they do have their places.

Millennials are extremely passionate about changing the world. We want to feed the hungry, cloth the destitute, and love the despised. But we need go about it in a way that is helpful to those in need, and not in ways that just make us feel good. By extremely hard work, Norman Borlaug quietly changed the world because he cared about others, not because he wanted accolades, and not because it was easy. May we all take his example to heart, work hard, and make the world a better place.

This article was originally published on Red Alert Politics

Featured image courtesy of András Bögöly/Flickr CC.

Megan is the Director of Communications for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and Editor of EarthRisingBlog.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MeganToombs.

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