The American who helped India conquer hunger

young Borlaugh

Mon, Sep 14 09:40 AM

Ludhiana , Sept. 13 -- The poor rains of 1979, 1987 or 2002 did not result in a food crisis in India

like in the 1960s. (RESULTING IN FAMINE like condition in INDIA 1960)

And this is something for which the country must give credit to American agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, who died of cancer at his home in Texas, USA, at the age of 95 on Saturday. The only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for contribution in agriculture and food production, Borlaug is considered the brain behind India's Green Revolution of the 1960s.

Before India, experiments with high-yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds took place in Mexico, with some success. Borlaug's Mexican HYV wheat varieties and their Indian and Pakistani derivatives had been the principal catalyst in triggering the Green Revolution.

Borlaug first visited India in 1963. His HYV seed Leema Rojo was the most successful variety that increased the yield of wheat in Punjab manifold.

"The high-yielding variety was reddish-brown and did not find favour with a lot of people. Under Borlaug's guidance, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) professor Kalyan Singh crossbred it with Indian varieties and evolved a new type called Kalyan.

This became highly successful," former PAU Vice-Chancellor K.S. Aulukh told HT. The Green Revolution, which first took place in Punjab, spread rapidly to other parts of India. As a result, the country achieved self-sufficiency in food production by the early 1990s.

"We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted," Borlaug said recently in an interview posted on Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical) University's web site. Borlaug last visited PAU in 2005 and expressed satisfaction after visiting farms there and seeing new varieties of wheat, Aulukh said.

More than any other single person of this age,

he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,” the Nobel committee said

in presenting him with the Peace Prize. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.Traveling to Norway, the land of his ancestors, to receive the award,

he warned the Nobel audience that the struggle against hunger had not been won. “We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts,” he said.

If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species,” he declared.

Twice more in his lifetime, in the 1970s and again in 2008, those words would prove prescient as food shortages and high prices caused global unrest

His was also an unlikely career path, one that began in earnest near the end of World War II, when Dr. Borlaug walked away from a promising job at DuPont, the chemical company, to take a position in Mexico trying to help farmers improve their crops.

Indeed, on first seeing the situation in Mexico for himself, Dr Borlaug reacted with near despair

they are so poor and depressing,” he wrote to his wife after his first extended sojourn in the country.

“I don’t know what we can do to help these people, but we’ve got to do something.” The next few years were ones of toil .

In 1953, Dr Borlaug began working with a wheat strain containing an unusual gene. It had the effect of shrinking the wheat plant, creating a stubby, compact variety. Yet crucially, the seed heads did not shrink, meaning a small plant could still produce a large amount of wheat.

Dr Borlaug and his team transferred the gene into tropical wheats. When high fertiliser levels were applied to these new “semi-dwarf” plants, the results were nothing short of astonishing.

The plants would produce enormous heads of grain, yet their stiff, short bodies could support the weight without falling over. On the same amount of land, wheat output could be tripled or quadrupled.

Later, the idea was applied to rice, the staple crop for nearly half the world’s population, with yields jumping several-fold compared with some traditional varieties.

M.S. Swaminathan remembers

Norman Borlaug’s association with India began in the late 1960s. India was then importing 10 million tonnes of wheat and “we lived a ship-to-mouth” existence.

He added: “I was working at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. The problem at the time of India’s Independence was that the wheat and rice yield was less than one metric tonne per hectare.

From 1947 to the early-1960s we increased the area under the crops.”But there was no significant increase in production.

The introduction of the dwarf variety of wheat developed by him in Mexico was a turning point in India’s food production pattern.

Norman Borlaug said during a visit to India in 1966 that “India should be free of PL 480 assistance.” At that time India was importing wheat from the US.

Prof Borlaug had been disappointed when his efforts to introduce the Green Revolution in Africa failed owing to the unfavourable political conditions there

He was frustrated throughout his life that governments did not do more to tackle what he called “the population monster” by lowering birth rates.

Chinese scientists ultimately followed in the footsteps of Western researchers, using semi-dwarf varieties to establish food security in China and setting the stage for its rise as an industrial power. And Dr Borlaug and his colleagues helped spread the new crop varieties to additional countries of Latin America, notably Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil.