Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug - a University of Minnesota alum and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - has died.

Well done good and faithful servant...

At the University of Minnesota rather that boasting that we are driven to discover, perhaps we should come up with some new slogan that emphasizes the importance of people, because they are our most important product.

Nothing makes me prouder than the fact that Dr. Borlaug graduated from the U. Dr. Borlaug was our most illustrious and our most important graduate and we have had plenty of them.

He was admitted to the university through General College as he was initially judged unworthy of acceptance at the U. He is the perfect example of a true student athlete and is in the U's Wrestling Hall of Fame.

From the Strib:

Norman Borlaug, an Iowa farmboy who graduated from the University of Minnesota, believed food was a moral right. He spent his life travel ling the world as a scientist and humanitarian, becoming the Green Revolution's "Apostle of Wheat" for the high-yield grain he perfected to fill stomachs worldwide.

Because of Borlaug, families in Asia, Latin America and Africa have more to eat today, leaders of the National Academy of Sciences said in 2002 in awarding him its Public Welfare Medal. "Some credit him with saving more human lives than any other person in history,'' said the academy's president, Bruce Alberts.

For all but the final two years of his life, Borlaug traveled so extensively that his family saw him only three a times a year, said his son, William Gibson Borlaug, of Dallas. His father thought everyone had a right to a roof over their head, a full stomach and an education. "He was a great person and did an awful lot of good in the world," his son said.

Despite his work around the world, Borlaug stayed close to his Minnesota roots. He was in the university's Hall of Fame for wrestling and was to serve as grand marshal at the homecoming football game next month. "He was really looking forward to that," William Borlaug said. "He had a real soft spot in his heart for the University of Minnesota."

Borlaug talked to some of [wrestling coach, J] Robinson's teams, telling them how wrestling taught him tenacity that proved helpful in his work. Borlaug recalled his own coach telling him repeatedly, "Never give up."

Tenacity became a Borlaug hallmark.

At the University of Minnesota, he had to do remedial work because some of his high school credits weren't accepted, and he had failed an exam that would have gotten him in without the credits. Now his name marks a building on the Twin Cities campus, where he earned a Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1942.

[Dr. Borlaug was accepted initially in General College...]

Mexico became home. There Borlaug and his wife -- the former Margaret Gibson, whom he met in Minnesota and who died in 2007 at age 95 -- raised children and organized Little League baseball teams that he coached to the Mexican national championship. Mexicans, however, honor him for a different feat: making them self-sufficient in wheat by 1956.

The quest for sturdy, high-yielding wheat was likely to take 10 years or more because plants must grow through several generations of selection before new traits are stable. He tried cutting the time in half by growing one crop in northern Mexico, then carting seeds 1,200 miles south to sneak in a second crop each year.

The shuttle breeding provided an unexpected breakthrough: unlike most crop varieties, which are suited only for a small geographic area, his wheat could thrive almost anywhere. And thrive it did.

With Borlaug's help in the 1960s, Pakistan and India became self-sufficient in wheat. Production also jumped in China, Latin America, Australia, Europe and the United States.

But the miracle seeds came at a price. Borlaug became a prime target for groups that claimed that the true legacy of the green revolution was polluting chemicals, a lack of crop diversity and large farms that require expensive machinery.

Asked about the criticism during an interview in Mexico in 1991, Borlaug slammed a fist on the table: "Stop right there! This is false information that did us great harm.''

Like medicine, farm chemicals must be used correctly, he said. While the new seeds responded to synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals, they didn't always need chemicals to flourish. In Asia they commonly were used on farms of fewer than 10 acres with simple machinery, he said.

Critics also accused Borlaug of contributing to overpopulation. With more to eat, more people would survive through reproductive years, they said, and eventually the population would catch up with yield gains. Thus, people would be hungry again and there would be more of them to starve.

Borlaug punched back. His critics, he said, were well-fed elitists in the entrenched bureaucracies where they passed judgment from air-conditioned offices that were far removed from hungry peasants.

Wherever Borlaug worked, he preached of population control. Over the years, results on that point tended to fall in his favor as many developing nations demonstrated that family planning could take hold when hunger and economic need were eased.

But Borlaug didn't claim to have all of the right answers either: "Sure there are defects, but I've got to do the best I can with that genetic hand of cards that I'm dealt,'' he said.

"I am but one member of a vast team made up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists and millions of farmers -- mostly small and humble -- who many years have been fighting an often-times losing war on the food production front,'' he said when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize, won by only a few Americans, placed him in the ranks of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and humanitarian Elie Wiesel.

Even after working in Mexico for many years, he spoke with an accent that echoed the immigrants who settled Iowa's "Little Norway."' And he epitomized their steadfast refusal to bend on principle -- lecturing heads of state who ignored his calls for curbs on population growth and battling critics of green-revolution technologies.

"Americans need to understand that peace and tranquility for our grandchildren won't be built on the human misery that abounds in many parts of the world. Poverty and ignorance are a fertile seedbed into which can be planted all kinds of extreme -isms, like terrorism," he said. "The world has shrunk with improved communication. The misery that used to be hidden is all out front now. Tranquility cannot be made by the military alone. All the money that goes into the military by the western allies, and we spend more than any other, is a poor substitute for education that offers people a little better standard of living and buys time to improve their outlook for a decent life."

In his later years, Borlaug turned his work to some of the world's poorest farmers. Former President Jimmy Carter and Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa recruited him in 1984 to help drought-stricken regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

"With his agricultural techniques -- which combined high-yielding cereal varieties with appropriate fertilizer use and weed control -- the production of corn, wheat, cassava, potato, sorghum, and cow peas increased considerably,'' the National Academy of Sciences said in 2002

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