Maybe a billion souls

Forgive me. I steal a few thoughts from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. I do so because they concern a man who may have saved more lives than any man in history. And for another reason. One that concerns faith in humanity and its potential. And cynical lack of faith.

Norman Borlaug is an agricultural scientist. He is 93 and still works. Works on what he has worked on since the mid-1940’s. He develops better grains.

In the 40’s and 50’s he worked in Mexico. Where people starved because of poor wheat harvests. He helped isolate and develop strains of wheat that shrugged off disease. Strains that grew more wheat than old strains. He helped develop fertilizing systems. And ideal growing methods. And better irrigation systems.

By the time he moved on, in 1963, Mexico’s farmers harvested six times more wheat that when he arrived. And millions who would have starved or died, did not. They lived.

Next, Norman tackled the poor rice and grain yields of India and Pakistan. And the Philippines and Indonesia and China. Over thirty years he has worked his magic. And food production in those countries has soared. Thanks to him.



Norman Borlaug won a Nobel prize and other honors. Bur his name is unknown to most of us. And to the perhaps 1 billion people he helped to save with more food.

Can you believe this? People at Greenpeace, and other pessimists, worked to end his miracles. To throttle them. They cursed the green revolution he helped to create. Greenpeace went so far as to convince the Ford foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to end their funding for his programs. They helped to end funding for programs that would grow more food for starving millions.

They did this because they were pessimists. They believed Borlaug should not teach starving people to grow extra food. Because if they did, they would grow healthy. And wealthy. And then they would develop their economies. In doing so, they would industrialize. They would use up all our resources. They would ruin their land with tractors and roads and fertilizers and chemicals.

Baad thing to do, those at Greenpeace and other environmentalists fretted. The world does not need the extra people. It does not need more industrialization. This was not even a case of “Let them eat cake.” It was more, Let them eat nothing. Let them perish.”

The famous biologist Paul Erlich declared in the 60’s that “the battle to feed all of humanity” was lost. He tossed in the towel, pessimist that he was. He predicted hundreds of millions would starve to death in 70’s and 80’s. He sold a lot of books. Made a lot of money. But his predictions flopped. The opposite happened. Thanks to people - optimists - like Norman Borlaug.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute was just as gloomy. We will not be able to grow enough food for the masses, he told everyone. He called for huge doses of socialism. That’s a system that has demonstrated repeatedly how to ruin a countries’ farming.

Imagine if Norman Borlaug’s work had been stopped by these pessimists. Imagine the deaths. Imagine the misery. Instead, we have a few billion people rapidly improving their standards of health and welfare. They can do so because they are no longer chained to the farms that barely sustained them or failed to.

Borlaug had faith in people. He believed that if he could help them grow food cheaply, they would prosper in so many other ways. For instance, with lots of food they would no longer need to strip their precious forest land as poor people do.

The pessimists of today are like those who opposed Dr. Borlaug. They are against development. They want fewer people. They oppose economic growth - because they believe growth brings too many problems.

It does bring problems. But optimists like Norman Borlaug believe healthy well-fed human beings will solve the problems.

“... Some environmental lobbyists of the western nations are the salt of the earth,” he said. “But many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from their 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 back home were trying to deny them these things.”

On behalf of maybe a billion souls, thank you Dr. Borlaug.

From Tom .. .as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shown (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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