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The American who helped India conquer hunger

The only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for contribution in agriculture and food production, Norman Borlaug is considered the brain behind India’s Green Revolution of the 1960s. He passed away on Saturday, reports Vishal Rambani.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2009 01:56 IST
Vishal Rambani

The poor rains of 1979, 1987 or 2002 did not result in a food crisis in India like in the 1960s. And this is something for which the country must give credit to American agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, who died of cancer at his home in Texas, USA, at the age of 95 on Saturday.

The only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for contribution in agriculture and food production, Borlaug is considered the brain behind India’s Green Revolution of the 1960s. Before India, experiments with high-yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds took place in Mexico, with some success.

Borlaug’s Mexican HYV wheat varieties and their Indian and Pakistani derivatives had been the principal catalyst in triggering the Green Revolution.

Borlaug first visited India in 1963. His HYV seed Leema Rojo was the most successful variety that increased the yield of wheat in Punjab manifold.

“The high-yielding variety was reddish-brown and did not find favour with a lot of people. Under Borlaug’s guidance, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) professor Kalyan Singh crossbred it with Indian varieties and evolved a new type called Kalyan. This became highly successful,” former PAU Vice-Chancellor K.S. Aulukh told HT.

The Green Revolution, which first took place in Punjab, spread rapidly to other parts of India. As a result, the country achieved self-sufficiency in food production by the early 1990s.

“We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted,” Borlaug said recently in an interview posted on Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical) University’s web site.

Borlaug last visited PAU in 2005 and expressed satisfaction after visiting farms there and seeing new varieties of wheat, Aulukh said.

In his address to scientists at PAU, Borlaug exhorted them to fight against hunger. “He always sent new inventions to us for field experiments,” Aulukh said.

Borlaug had been criticised by environmentalists for his innovation of genetically modified food (food developed by altering gene structures) and advocating the use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. “It is better to die eating genetically modified food instead of dying of hunger,” he remarked at PAU.