Today is a day that is important in the history of the world, although it may go unnoticed by many. On this day, 100 years ago, was born Norman Borlaug. Born on a farm in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug was a scientist, a humanitarian. In 1970, Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the field of agriculture. Through his studies, Borlaug developed, and introduced into the world of agriculture, higher yielding crops, which have thus been credited with the saving of billions of lives from the threat of starvation.
Below I have inserted a segment of Dr. Borlaug’s lecture that he gave in Oslo, Norway the day after accepting the Nobel Prize. If you would like to read the lecture in its entirety, it can be found at www.nobelprize.org. I would highly recommending reading the whole lecture as it will be a great way to develop a broader understanding of what it means to help the less fortunate of the world.
The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity
Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on ignoring the lessons available from history.
Man’s survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability to ensure his food supply. During the long, obscure, dimly defined prehistoric period when man lived as a wandering hunter and food gatherer, frequent food shortages must have prevented the development of village civilizations. Under these conditions the growth of human population was also automatically limited by the limitations of food supplies.
In the misty, hazy past, as the Mesolithic Age gave way to the Neolithic, there suddenly appeared in widely separated geographic areas the most highly successful group of inventors and revolutionaries that the world has ever known. This group of Neolithic men and women, and in all probability largely the latter, domesticated all the major cereals, legumes, and root crops, as well as all of the most important animals that to this day remain man’s principal source of food. Apparently, nine thousand years ago, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains1, man had already become both agriculturist and animal husbandry-man, which, in turn, soon led to the specialization of labor and the development of village life. Similar discoveries and developments elsewhere soon laid the groundwork from which all modern agriculture and animal industry and, indeed, all of the world’s subsequent civilizations have evolved. Despite the tremendous value of their contributions, we know none of these benefactors of mankind by name. In fact, it has only been within the past century, and especially within the last fifteen years – since the development of the effective radio-carbon dating system – that we have begun even vaguely to understand the timing of these epochal events which have shaped the world’s destiny.
The invention of agriculture, however, did not permanently emancipate man from the fear of food shortages, hunger, and famine. Even in prehistoric times population growth often must have threatened or exceeded man’s ability to produce enough food. Then, when droughts or outbreaks of diseases and insect pests ravaged crops, famine resulted.
That such catastrophes occurred periodically in ancient times is amply clear from numerous biblical references. Thus, the Lord said: “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew.”2 “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered… The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”3
Plant diseases, drought, desolation, despair were recurrent catastrophes during the ages – and the ancient remedies: supplications to supernatural spirits or gods. And yet, the concept of the “ever-normal granary” appeared in elementary form, as is clear from Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of imminent famine and his preparation for it, as indicated by this quotation from Genesis: “…And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread…”4 For his time, Joseph was wise, with the help of his God.
But today we should be far wiser; with the help of our Gods and our science, we must not only increase our food supplies but also insure them against biological and physical catastrophes by international efforts to provide international granaries of reserve food for use in case of need. And these food reserves must be made available to all who need them – and before famine strikes, not afterwards. Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines. Humanity cannot tolerate that guilt.
Alfred Nobel was also very conscious of the importance of food, for he once wrote: “I would rather take care of the stomachs of the living than the glory of the departed in the form of monuments.”
The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent standard of living for all mankind. The guiding principles of the recipient of the 1969 Nobel Peace Prize, the International Labor Organization, are expressed in its charter words, “Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice. If you desire peace, cultivate justice.” This is magnificent; no one can disagree with this lofty principle.
Almost certainly, however, the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world. Yet today fifty percent of the world’s population goes hungry. Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless. Therefore I feel that the aforementioned guiding principle must be modified to read: If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.
I hope you have found Dr. Borlaug’s words valuable. And, not only that, but that you would be inspired to discover the unique ways in which you can contribute to his end goal, which was to try to give dignity to all people.