By Robert Fraley
Chief Technology Officer
Innovation can certainly lead to fame – we celebrate the names and stories of those who invented products or processes that have changed our lives for the better. The inventors of the first automobile, the first telephone, the first smartphone and other common devices are well-known and often-celebrated.
Dr. Norman Borlaug may not be as famous as some of these innovators, at least not outside of agriculture and scientific circles, but his work was every bit as important and life-changing. As a matter of fact, his work was life-enabling: he is widely credited with launching the Green Revolution and saving as many as 1 billion lives around the world.
Norm was a great friend and hero for me. I know that most of those focused on advances in plant breeding and biotechnology would say the same. Quite simply, our lives would not be the same without his innovation and tireless dedication to feeding hungry people around the world.
Norm’s legacy was built starting in the 1940s, when he started work to develop disease-resistant wheat for Mexico. While these efforts took more than a decade, the result was astonishing as Mexico went from producing less than half of the wheat needed for its population to becoming fully self-sufficient.
His attention then turned to the Middle East and Asia, where the threat of widespread famine loomed. He managed to convince leaders in both India and Pakistan to adopt new seeds and farming methods, helping those countries to quickly move to self-sufficiency in wheat production in the late 1960s. It was just in time to help avert broad famine among these rapidly growing populations.
Norm’s methods were adopted by others, and quickly spread across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. His astounding body of work resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and numerous other honors from around the globe.
Norm left us in 2009, but his work and his spirit continue to inspire us. I look forward to celebrating his legacy at next week’s 2013 Borlaug Dialogue symposium in Des Moines. The World Food Prize and the symposium that carries his name were created to ensure that key advancements in agriculture are better understood and appreciated.
Just as importantly, Norm established the World Food Prize to help ensure that we continue to innovate in agriculture in the years to come. One of the “Normanisms” that he shared with me early on is a simple-but-powerful truth: “Hunger never sleeps, and farmers will always need new tools to feed the planet.”
As more than 1,000 farmers, scientists, students and educators prepare to gather in Des Moines for the Borlaug Dialogue, that Normanism will be top-of-mind. We’ll celebrate past achievements, but also focus on today’s challenges in food security, and the emerging capabilities that will help us to safety address those challenges.
I encourage you to read more about Norm’s inspiring story, and to stay apprised of the important discussions around food innovation that will take place next week in Des Moines.