The man who saved a billion lives

The man who solved the world’s food problem, Norman Borlaug, died at 95. His applications of agricultural science launched the so-called “green revolution,” not in the sense of environmentalism but in growing an abundance of green, productive plant life.

Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug rose from his childhood on an Iowa farm to develop a type of wheat that helped feed the world, fostering a movement that is credited with saving up to 1 billion people from starvation.

Borlaug, 95, died Saturday from complications of cancer at his Dallas home, said Kathleen Phillips, a spokesman for Texas A&M University where Borlaug was a distinguished professor.
“Norman E. Borlaug saved more lives than any man in human history,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. “His heart was as big as his brilliant mind, but it was his passion and compassion that moved the world.”

He was known as the father of the “green revolution,” which transformed agriculture through high-yield crop varieties and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Now there is a life that made a difference. Food shortages continue, of course, but the causes are nearly always political and economic, not because of limited food production. Lars Walker notes a Lutheran connection.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    He has also caused a lot of problems and killed the family farm. Is there a way we can keep the baby, but get rid of that dirty bath water?

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    He has also caused a lot of problems and killed the family farm. Is there a way we can keep the baby, but get rid of that dirty bath water?

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    Ok, perhaps HE didn’t kill the family farm. He did do a lot of good, but after the “green revolution” the farmers had to get big or get out. Many small farms closed up making way for Monsanto and friends.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    Ok, perhaps HE didn’t kill the family farm. He did do a lot of good, but after the “green revolution” the farmers had to get big or get out. Many small farms closed up making way for Monsanto and friends.

  • kerner

    Interesting point, Sarah. But this is kind of like the way Wal-mart killed the family store, or the way Eli Whitney (who thought up mass production for factories) killed individual artisanship. By replacing handmade goods with factory manufactured goods, those goods became much cheaper and available to a lot more people, thus vastly improving their lives, but the individual artisans were replaced.

  • kerner

    Interesting point, Sarah. But this is kind of like the way Wal-mart killed the family store, or the way Eli Whitney (who thought up mass production for factories) killed individual artisanship. By replacing handmade goods with factory manufactured goods, those goods became much cheaper and available to a lot more people, thus vastly improving their lives, but the individual artisans were replaced.

  • Joe

    The family farm was a wonderful institution but not sustainable as the way to produce food for millions/billions of people. I love the family farm ideal – I spent part of my childhood on one. I was supposed to be the fifth generation to work that same piece of land.

    My dad (family) had to find another way of life and more people get to live. I think that is a fair trade off.

  • Joe

    The family farm was a wonderful institution but not sustainable as the way to produce food for millions/billions of people. I love the family farm ideal – I spent part of my childhood on one. I was supposed to be the fifth generation to work that same piece of land.

    My dad (family) had to find another way of life and more people get to live. I think that is a fair trade off.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Of course, all those people he saved, died of other causes. He may have saved them from starvation but that is about it. I think Jesus Christ still has the crown for saving the most lives of anyone in human history. I say that not to diminish what Borlaug did, but to put it in a little perspective.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Of course, all those people he saved, died of other causes. He may have saved them from starvation but that is about it. I think Jesus Christ still has the crown for saving the most lives of anyone in human history. I say that not to diminish what Borlaug did, but to put it in a little perspective.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    let’s not blame Borlaug for the end of the family farm; to be certain, it meant that farmers would buy seed instead of saving last year’s crop, but the little guy gets about as good a deal as the big guy these days.

    Now grain subsidies, on the other hand….

    Reality is, though, that small time farmers in Asia do very well with Borlaug’s hybrids.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    let’s not blame Borlaug for the end of the family farm; to be certain, it meant that farmers would buy seed instead of saving last year’s crop, but the little guy gets about as good a deal as the big guy these days.

    Now grain subsidies, on the other hand….

    Reality is, though, that small time farmers in Asia do very well with Borlaug’s hybrids.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Statistically, one American farmer now feeds 129 people. This is the widest ratio of the number of farmers to the number of mouths in the history of the world. Additionally, the American family spends about 11% of it’s income on food. This is the lowest percentage in the world. I too lament the decline of the family farm, but the trade off isn’t so palatable for most folks either. No pun intended.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Statistically, one American farmer now feeds 129 people. This is the widest ratio of the number of farmers to the number of mouths in the history of the world. Additionally, the American family spends about 11% of it’s income on food. This is the lowest percentage in the world. I too lament the decline of the family farm, but the trade off isn’t so palatable for most folks either. No pun intended.

  • marty carlassare

    The problem of too many people confined by physical and political borders. We shouldnt be moving resources (namely food and water) to an area that can not support the population. As in early times populations migrated or were reduced by the environment.

  • marty carlassare

    The problem of too many people confined by physical and political borders. We shouldnt be moving resources (namely food and water) to an area that can not support the population. As in early times populations migrated or were reduced by the environment.


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