Date: Jan. 22, 2002
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NORMAN E. BORLAUG TO RECEIVE PUBLIC WELFARE MEDAL,
ACADEMY'S HIGHEST HONOR
WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has selected Norman E. Borlaug to receive the academy's most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal. Established in 1914, the medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Borlaug has dedicated his life's work to improving agricultural techniques and food production in the developing world. A leader in the war against hunger and deprivation, Borlaug is credited with preventing the deaths of millions through the development and widespread use of high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat strains grown with improved agronomic practices.
"Early in his career, Dr. Borlaug realized that food production is basic to human existence in a healthy and peaceful world," said R. Stephen Berry, NAS home secretary and chair of the selection committee. "People all over the globe are indebted to him and the endless energy he devoted to their most basic needs. Dr. Borlaug continues to advise numerous governments and agencies, yet he keeps his ties to the country and the scientific and educational system that have underpinned his lifelong efforts."
Today, a substantial portion of the world's food supply depends on Borlaug's perfected high-yield dwarf wheat, which can grow in a multitude of environments. His research transformed agriculture in starvation-plagued Mexico, Asia, Africa, and South America. He has also been instrumental in training hundreds of young scientists from many countries to carry on his legacy.
"Dr. Borlaug is universally recognized as a leader of the 'Green Revolution,' developing high-yield, disease-resistant wheat strains for cultivation around the world," said NAS President Bruce Alberts. "His lifelong goal is to end hunger through the application of and changes in economic policies and greater understanding among nations. Some credit him with saving more human lives than any other person in history."
Borlaug's international career began in 1944 when he organized and led the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico, a joint mission between the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation. The program's initial objective was to teach new agriculture techniques to farmers. Borlaug soon began to focus on his agricultural innovations, which increased crop yields to the point that by 1956 Mexico no longer relied on imported wheat to feed its populace. By 1960 he began to turn his attention to wheat deficits in South America and the Middle East.
The worsening shortage of cereal grains in Asia in the early 1960s, combined with the success of the cooperative wheat program in Mexico, led the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation to jointly create and finance the world's first two international agricultural research centers. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center was established in Mexico in 1966, and Borlaug became director of its wheat research and production program. He then shifted his focus to the urgent needs of India and Pakistan.
The governments of the two countries at first resisted assistance, but famine forced them to seek a solution and try Borlaug's varieties of dwarf wheat and agronomic practices. War between the two countries delayed Borlaug's efforts, but with easing hostilities came rapid adoption and abundant harvests. By 1968, Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat and rice production, with India achieving self-sufficiency in wheat in 1972 and all cereal grains in 1974. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in the Green Revolution in cereal production. His approach also affected agriculture in more developed nations, including Australia, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and the United States.
Borlaug's humanitarian pursuits continued in the 1970s in China, where he helped increase wheat production by millions of tons a year. When he sought to remedy the world's most dire food shortage, in Africa, Borlaug was confronted with unforeseen financial obstacles as the relief organizations refused to fund use of non-organic fertilizers. But in 1984, former president Jimmy Carter and Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa asked Borlaug to address the bleak agricultural predicament in Africa following the severe Sahelian drought of the early 1980s. 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.
Today, Borlaug continues to serve as the president of the Sasakawa Africa Association, which since 1986 has been bringing science-based crop production methods to small farms of sub-Saharan Africa. He continues to be a senior consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and also is a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Borlaug is quick to credit his scientific colleagues and the farmers who put his ideas to use in the fields. When he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, 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."
Born on March 25, 1914, in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug received his bachelor's degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota in 1937, and he worked for the U.S. Forest Service during and after college. He returned to the University of Minnesota to receive his M.S. degree in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1942, both in plant pathology. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968. In addition, he belongs to the science academies of 11 other nations. Borlaug has received 47 honorary degrees. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and has served on two U.S. Presidential Commissions: World Hunger (1978-1979) and Science and Technology (1990-1992).
Borlaug's guiding principle is: "Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world." He also has been a longtime proponent of curbing the world's population explosion, given its effects on global food supplies and the environment. He is an advocate of sound policies that will result in sustainable production of food, fiber, and forest products while protecting the natural resource base and maintaining favorable habitats for wildlife species.
The Public Welfare Medal, consisting of a medal and an illuminated scroll, will be presented to Borlaug during the NAS annual meeting in April. The National Academy of Science is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter.