An e-mail from a friend in Africa a few days ago reminded me about Norman Borlaug, and was reinforced by a mention at Instapundit today.
Most people don't know his name - but more than a billion of them are alive only because he lived, and spearheaded what's become known as the 'Green Revolution'. Michigan Capitol Confidential said of him a couple of years ago:
Called "arguably the greatest American in the 20th century," during his 95 years, Norman Borlaug probably saved more lives than any other person.
He is one of just six people to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And yet Borlaug, who died three years ago today, is scarcely known in his own country.
Born in Iowa in 1914, Borlaug spent most of his life in impoverished nations inventing, improving and teaching the "Green Revolution." His idea was simple: Make developing countries self sufficient in food by teaching them how to use modern agricultural techniques that are easy to implement. Borlaug spent most of his time in Mexico, Pakistan and India, and focused on five areas: crop cultivars (seeds), irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization. His successes were remarkable.
In 1950, Mexico imported over half of its food. Thanks to Borlaug's efforts to convince farmers there to try his techniques, Mexican food production increased 10-fold by 1970, and the country had become a net exporter. In India and Pakistan, production doubled. In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug's efforts, combined with those he trained and equipped, saved the lives of 1 billion human beings.
. . .
No good deed goes unpunished, so we shouldn't be surprised that Borlaug was attacked by proponents of the trendy new faith of radical environmentalism because Green Revolution farming requires some pesticide and lots of fertilizer. Gregg Easterbrook quotes Borlaug saying the following in the 1990s:
"(Most Western environmentalists) have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things."
Borlaug was correct: "Environmentalists" and their allies pressured the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Bank and Western governments to drop funding and support for the great humanitarian as he was trying to expand his efforts into Africa. As a result, it is no surprise that the continent is doing the poorest at feeding its people.
. . .
More than 40 years ago Borlaug wrote, "One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the world may be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflaged bureaucracy."
Some things never change.
There's more at the link.
I'm particularly aware of Mr. Borlaug's contribution to the world thanks to my humanitarian work in Africa over many years. I was outraged at environmentalists who deliberately, cynically and callously did everything in their power to stop Africa from applying his 'Green Revolution' to its own farming practices. As a result, tens of millions of Africans died of starvation during the 1980's and 1990's who would probably still be alive if his techniques and hybrid seeds had been imported and applied. The deaths of these people I lay squarely at the feet of environmentalists who actually preferred to see them die rather than allow the spread of ideas that they opposed for ideological reasons. I've never forgiven many environmental movements and organizations for that.
I, for one, remember Mr. Borlaug with great appreciation and thankfulness. I wish there had been, and still were, more like him.