For centuries, fear that the earth lacked the capacity to sustain an ever-growing population played a powerful role in economic thought. That was before agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, a leading figure in the “green revolution,” developed new crop varieties and agricultural techniques that have saved millions of lives and reshaped the course of human history.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1942 with a doctorate in plant pathology, Borlaug took a job as a researcher in plant breeding and genetics, where he first started working to create high-yield, disease-resistant varieties of wheat. The new cross-bred varieties he produced achieved astounding success, outperforming traditional strains by astronomical margins.
Borlaug’s contributions spread quickly, and ultimately helped boost the productivity and resilience of crops throughout the world. In just a handful of years, countries that had been historically stricken by food insecurity, such as India, Pakistan, and Mexico, became self-sufficient, and even net exporters of key grains.
Late into his career, Borlaug continued to adapt and refine his methods, broaden their access, and lead the fight for food security. For his scientific and humanitarian achievements, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970.
By Jeremy Gordon