Current affairs

The Bread Winner


In the year 1968, a professor from Stanford University, Paul Ehrlich, wrote a book. He named it as ‘Population Bomb’. It immediately hit the bestseller list. In this book, the author had spelt a bleak future and doom for the Indian people. He had predicted that in decades of 1970 and 1980, millions of Indians would die because of starvation, as Indian agriculture was totally incapable of feeding the rising population.

Those of us, who remember the food situation in India in the decades of 1950 and 1960, can vouch that the situation was serious. Because of terrible shortages and scarcity of foreign exchange, Government of India was forced to accept inferior quality wheat offered by US Government as free gift. American farmers, in fact had produced this wheat, as animal feed. Due to food shortages, there was wide spread black marketing in food. The situation did look like Ehrlich’s predictions.

In the decade of 1970, the situation changed rapidly as if someone had waved a magic wand. From 1965 to 1970, wheat production from India increased from 12 million tons to 20 million tons. In 1975, India became for the first time, a net exporter country of wheat. In the year 2000, wheat production touched 75 million tons. How did this happen? Who made this 600% growth, now known as Green Revolution, possible?

The magician who managed this trick was a humble American agriculturist. His name was Norman Borlaug. Besides India, he achieved this Green revolution in Pakistan, Sudan and much earlier in Mexico. In 1970, Norman was awarded Noble prize for peace. The award committee had commented that “more than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world.”

Norman was born in 1914 on a farm near Cresco in the state of Iowa in United States. He graduated from University on Minnesota, majoring in Forestry. He worked for some time for U.S. department of forests but returned to university to complete his post graduation in Plant Pathology and later did his Doctorate.

He left his cushy job in 1944 to join a research project in Mexico to create new wheat varieties to increase production. For next decade, he put in hard work in this research station having very primitive facilities. He never said no to any work right from pulling a plough, as no Tractor was available. He used to spend up to 12 hours per day, carefully cross-fertilizing the wheat flowers with a small paintbrush. By 1956, his hard work had paid off. Mexico’s food production had doubled.

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In 1965, Indian Government invited Norman to India. He helped to establish hundreds of research stations in north India. Even when the Indo-Pak war was raging, he demonstrated to hundreds of Punjab and Haryana farmers, his hybrid wheat varieties. The farmers from India, took up his Hybrid seeds in a big way and converted their lands into  goldmines. In 1984, even after retirement, when a call came from Africa, he went back to the fields.

When he was young, Norman had never seen human Hunger as such. In 1933, during great depression, he saw for the first time a man begging for food in New York. This incidence made a mark on him and he realized that no nation could have peace on empty stomachs. His initial research work was about the most dangerous ‘Rust’ disease on wheat crops. He developed a hybrid variety resistant to this disease. He crossbred this, with an indigenous Japanese variety called ‘Norin’ to produce a hybrid, which brought about Green Revolution in India.

After India, Pakistan and then Sudan became self-sufficient in food. In all these countries, which had become self-sufficient, the population growth rates actually started decreasing along with incidence of diseases. This was exactly contrary to what Paul Ehrlich had predicted.

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So called Green environmentalists, never really approved Norman’s hybrid wheat varieties. They claimed that these were unnatural. Norman always countered their argument by saying “Nature has created wheat by cross breeding various types of grasses. If we continue this process and produce better varieties it is not unnatural” He believed that if all nations increase their food production by adopting his methods, 8 billion people, who are likely to inhabit the earth by 2025 would find no food shortages anywhere.

It is best to ignore the green brigade. For Millions and Millions of people from developing countries, Norman Borlaug has been their Breadwinner in true sense. All of us are greatly indebted to this man for having saved our lives.

Norman Borlaug died on 12th September last week, at ripe age of 95.

22 September 2009

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About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.

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