Wednesday, September 16, 2009

RIP, Norman Borlaug (MUST READ)

AlphaNinja - Gregg Eaterbrook of the WSJ pens a tribute to an American who saved about 1 BILLION human lives, and massively increased life expectancy in developing countries. This man's name should be known to all American children - but I sadly suspect that kids are taught instead that population is unsustainable and humans a detriment to the earth. I know many people who'd look at that per-acre corn output and lament the unsustainability of such output, rather than marvel at the lives it extended and improved.

In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug's efforts combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations saved the lives of one billion human beings.

Green Revolution techniques caused both reliable harvests, and spectacular output. From the Civil War through the Dust Bowl, the typical American farm produced about 24 bushels of corn per acre; by 2006, the figure was about 155 bushels per acre.

In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century.

In the mid-1960s, India and Pakistan were exceptions to the trend toward more efficient food production; subsistence cultivation of rice remained the rule, and famine struck. In 1965, Borlaug arranged for a convoy of 35 trucks to carry high-yield seeds from CIMMYT to a Los Angeles dock for shipment to India and Pakistan. He and a coterie of Mexican assistants accompanied the seeds. They arrived to discover that war had broken out between the two nations. Sometimes working within sight of artillery flashes, Borlaug and his assistants sowed the Subcontinent's first crop of high-yield grain. Paul Ehrlich gained celebrity for his 1968 book "The Population Bomb," in which he claimed that global starvation was inevitable for the 1970s and it was "a fantasy" that India would "ever" feed itself. Instead, within three years of Borlaug's arrival, Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production; within six years, India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals.

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