Monday, 14 September 2009

Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century died on Saturday in the US. He was 95.

He was the inventor of the high yielding, disease resistant, varieties of wheat which enabled the Green revolution of the 1960s. While his work benefitted the world – three countries gained the most from his work – Mexico, India and Pakistan. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. India awarded him its second highest civilian honour, Padma Vibushan.

Its quite likely, that unless you are an agricultural scientist yourself, you have never heard of the man. But he would rank right up there with the greatest scientists of the 20th century. It would be hard to find another scientist, even Einstein, whose work directly improved the lives of so many millions of people. For he helped purge the scourge of famine from India and Pakistan. He started his work in Mexico in the early 60s. Between 1965 and 70, his work was mainly in India and Pakistan. During this period wheat yields doubled in both these countries. He , along with others, then replicated this magic in rice. Both these countries have overcome famine ever since.

But think of 1965. India had famine. There was not enough food to eat. If you really want to know what India was facing then, click here. Readers of this blog might be too young to remember PL 480 , but India’s survival depended on this handout from the US. There were endless queues in ration shops – for foodgrain was rationed. Having enough to eat was a luxury.

By 1970, it was a different story. Agricultural yields boomed thanks to the Green Revolution and India became self sufficient in food. And it has never looked back since. There were many heroes – rightfully MS Swaminathan, the father of the Indian Green revolution is idolized as the biggest of them. But globally Norman Borlaug is recognized as the father of the World Green Revolution.

A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled 'The Man Who Fed the World”. “More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world," Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Borlaug. "We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

Norman Borlaug was one of the greatest citizens of the world. For Indians of the yester generation, he was the “annadaata”, as the Times of India calls him in today’s obituary. We may have forgotten him, but the nation, and indeed the world, should remember with gratitude today, a true hero.


A journey called Life said...

some people leave a huge impact quite effortlessly and all we can do to respect their contribution, is atleast remember them with gratitude.

Srivats said...

ahha first place pochey :( sari padichuttu thirumbi varen oru one hour achum agum en mandaila eraradhukku hehe :)

CMK said...

Good of you to write in rememberance of a person who truly made changes in the life of millions.

I used to regularly read a column by the late Tamil writer 'Sujatha'. He wrote the column called 'Kadaisi Pakkam' or the 'Last Page'in a not so popular monthly Tamil magazine called 'Kanaiazhi'.

His postings were on varied topics and the style was like discussing with a friend informing the friend about his take on any given topic. I notice certain similarities in your posts to that style.

Keep them coming.

Preeti Shenoy said...

Very interesting ,the link that you gave from 1965 Time magazine was.

How things change!

I was not aware of this amazing person till I read this post.

Thank you for a very informative post.


athivas said...

We had heard of the famine in the 70's from our parents. Thank you so much for reminding of a person, who could have been neglected easily, with all his efforts! Thank you:)

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - Really true. Isn't it also interesting that the more a person has controbuted, the more humble he is.

@Sri - Ha Ha

@CMK - Oh No I can't be even on the same page as Sujatha. he was a master writer. But that's a good goal to aim for.

@Preeti - Cheers

@Savitha - Yes, our parents have seen some of the hardship, but our grandparents have seen even worse. Stories of World War II time : -what that generation has gone through. Norman Borlaug had a telling comment to protesters against science in agriculture. He said, come and feel the hunger for a week. And then protest !

Sandhya Sriram said...

I always thought MS Swaminathan was the father of green revolution, but just got to know that he had a forefather.Thanks so much for this very informative piece

cant imagine the situation how it would have been.

But there is yet another threat which is threating the fundamentals of human existence in the future - the one on global warming

I feel that this is becoming yet another politicized agenda. I think we need either need a norman who can bail us out through some break through research on this or read a similar article in times of india in 2035 on people getting roasted alive or sunk in deep sea.

some thoughts on the same in my blog below

JSunder said...

How one man can make such a mark!
Still, it is a sobering thought that after all these years over a billion people in the world don't get enough food to eat.

thethoughtfultrain said...

Touching tribute, Ramesh. Thank you for remembering and reminding us. These days we have too much of everything, posts like these should remind us that we are here because of lot of suffering, noble services and lots of hard work.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Ramesh, spot on. When I tell people of what life was like in Delhi in the 70s (if you were unlucky enough not to be rich or not born into an IAS family) people cannot believe it. Since we are the same vintage, here is a recap:

- The alternative to PL480 wheat (half of which was chaff) was irradiated Australian "red" wheat which had all the vitamins and minerals blasted out of it. This was also in short supply.

- Our task on Saturdays was to stand in line in the Fair Price Shop waiting for the sugar quota to be released, or for controlled rate maida, or some thing like that

- There was no milk, so there was no ghee. Dalda or Rath (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils) was rationed at one 1kg tin for a family of five per month.

- We were lucky enough to live near one of the villages subsumed by Delhi - Zamrudpur. There are "gwala" would sell buffalo milk. But this was also in short supply. For several years, my Dad and I would alternate at waking up at 2am to go to this gwala and buy two liters of milk in the morning, come back home by 330am, and go back to sleep.

- Since India wisely had restrictions on inter-state movement of grains (which is what lead to the Bengal famine in 1943), Ponni or Chamba rice was in short supply in Delhi, and you either got lousy rice from the ration shops or paid a lot more and got it from the hoarders.

In the 1990s, when I began to spend time in China, I became friendly with one of my colleagues in Stratus Beijing. Her name was Zhang Hai Li - she must have been in her late 40s. She was an engineer who used to work in No 2 Turbine Factory near Beijing. However, in the late 60s and until the 70s, she had been sent by the Red Guards to work in Hunan province where she was a farm labourer. I still remember how absolutely emotional and angry she used to get when she saw people waste food. She used to say people don't realise how difficult it is to grow it...

Anyways, sorry to hijack your blog with my sub-blog. To conclude, I remember the day Mother Diary opened one of their first outlets in Kailash Colony market in 1975. I recall going there with a jug, putting in the token, drawing a pitcher of cold milk and drinking it in one long gulp....It was heaven.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Yes climate change is another big challenge ; but in these days everything gets opposed and its dificult to do anything. I am sure if Norman Borlaug had worked in today's age he would have faced huge opposition from the anti genetic engineering lobby (for thats what a high yielding variety is)

@Sunder - Thanks for visiting and your comment. Its a very sobering thought indeed.

@thoughtful train - Some years ago, it was a tough life in India. See Ravi's brilliant comment. Thankfully we have overcome that now.

Ramesh said...

@Dada - Thanks for a superb comment. I've been through such experiences too; so can relate to it perfectly. How much the world has changed for the better. While we bemoan some of the ills in India today rightly, we also have to be thankful for what we've got.

Srivats said...

ahaa sor pottavara marandhottomey! i know a little about the famine, didnot know much of stories about it :)

//Readers of this blog might be too young to remember PL 480 ,//

Yes I am too young you see ;P

May Norman's soul rest in peace. He deserve much more appreciations than celebrities!

Very informative post Ramesh, attagasama erukku. :)

Take care

Srivats said...

Nethikku work konjam erundhuchu so udaney padichu reply panna mudila :)

Ramesh said...

@Sri - Its one of the astounding successes of India that the youth of today have not experienced the tough times. Its an achievement India, and all Indians, can be proud about.

May you never have to ever think about stuff like PL480.

Srivats said...

but dont u think we are producing lesser these days and importing more ?

Srivats said...

again importing more is good sign of developing country ? because in singapore everything is important :) sorry for being dumb just wanted to know

Ramesh said...

Sri - It doesn't matter if we produce ourselves or trade - its best to concentrate of things that we can do well and trade for others. Trade is great, like Singapore has indeed shown. But the problem with PL480 was that it was aid ; not trade. We had a begging bowl in our hands and pleaded for aid. That should never never happen again.

Srivats said...

that explains a little but I got loads of things to ask you, i have very less knowledge when its come to economics , finance and politics . When we meet, Which I am sure we will , I can imagine sitting next to u with a wide open mouth when you explain all these concepts hehe :)

Ramesh said...

@Srivats - when we meet I shall be with gaping mouth trying to taste all the delicacies you cook and astonished at the lovely paintings :)

WagonR said...

People like Norman Borlaug and MSS are visionaries. They work for the common man. Some time back I had a chance to MSS presentation to our elected MPs in Lok Sabha channel. They way he presented the outlook on India's agriculture is phenomenal. But sad that most of our MPs will only think on how to make money with the thought process coming out of the visionaries. Very sad for India.

Ramesh said...

@WagonR - Completely agree. Such visionaries are incredible people. Its a sad fact that our political leadership does not have such visionaries.

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