Sunday, November 13, 2005

Real Men of Genius: Norman Borlaug

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the first instalment of real men of genius. Most of you probably have not even heard of Norman Borlaug, but he is one of the greatest humanitarians that has ever lived and in 1970, Norman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1942 Norman was awarded his PhD in plant pathology and genetics at the University of Minnesota.

After leaving college, Norman moved to Mexico where he worked on developing more efficient Wheat crops that could feed the countries poor and boost its economy. He worked on ‘dwarfing’ wheat crops to make them shorter and stronger so that the storks could support more grain. In addition to this Norman developed strains of Wheat that are more resistant to disease and introduced new agricultural methods. By 1963, 19 years after arriving in Mexico Norman’s work had increased the countries wheat production 6 fold.

The success of Norman’s work in Mexico led the expansion of his work to Asia in what is now dubbed as the ‘Green Revolution’. In the 1960’s the Indian Subcontinent was at war with populations on both sides suffering from famine and starvation. By 1965 the governments stepped in allowing Norman to conduct his work. With Norman’s intervention, by 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production, and by 1974 India was self-sufficient on the production of all cereals. Since the 60’s in both countries food production has increased at a faster rate than population growth. These strains of wheat have also been used in South America, the Middle East and some parts of Africa. Norman’s life work has saved the lives of untold millions of people; in fact, many people credit him with saving the lives of over a billion people.

Despite his superb efforts to feed the world Norman’s work has come under some criticism. Whilst he accepts some points of his criticism stating that his work is a ‘step in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into a Utopia’. Much of the criticism about his work and GM crops in general come from environmentalists such as Greenpeace. In response to this criticism Norman remarked

"some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things"

Unfortunately, these activists were not simply slandering the names of the world’s top humanitarians and in 2002 things took a turn for the worse. At the 2002 environmental summit in Africa activists from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth convinced the Zambian government to turn down free high-yield GM crops donated by the US due to unsubstantiated health concerns. In other words Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were directly responsible for the continuation of famine, starvation and inevitably the deaths of an already poor and suffering population.

So there you have it, a quick insight into one of the worlds real men of genius. Next time some activist harasses you about GM crops, before you sign their petition or buy that bumper sticker, tell them about Norman Borlaug and if that doesn’t work send then round to the disgruntled wogbeast’s cave where I’ll serve them up a 100% organic knuckle sandwich.



Blogger phdmonkey said...

This unfounded hysteria over GM crops has always bewildered me. As a man of science (however far away I am from being a man of genius, real or otherwise) it makes me rather angry and saddened to think that people actually believe that adding DNA from another organism could be dangerous to our health. For example, adding some fish genes to increase the fluidity of plant membranes and prevent them succumbing to frost is a no-no, but we are urged to eat lots of oily fish in order to get our quota of Omega 6 and 9. Go figure, as the Americans say. It's mostly just down to bad publicity from a few misplaced early experiments. You wouldn't eat mouldy bread, but likewise you'd be daft to turn down penicillin if you were struck with the lurgy.

Address all complaints to the Monsanto Corporation!

10:04 pm  
Blogger disgruntled_wogbeast said...

Well exactly. It really makes me sick that the lucky (misguided) few think they have the right to TAKE FOOD OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF THE STARVING. The whole organic craze that swept across Europe and the US is rediculous, I agree that food grown naturally can taste better (e.g. organic vs. force ripened tomatoes) and can prove more profitable to farmers. The real profits are made by the supermarkets who have worried consumers bent over a barrel. However, both of these points are completely irrelevant in the third world where people are more concerned with not starving to death.

10:38 am  
Blogger golliwog said...

hi wogbeast,
it takes very little to prevent help from reaching those who need it. my mum (a cardiologist) started a pacemaker bank- for extremely poor patients in eastern india- who would die since they couldnt afford pacemakers. an american organisation was sending free pacemakers were 6 months from expiry. now expiry dates on pacemakers is a mere technicality since they tick inside humans for 10 yrs and more. anyway, another doctor tried using one of the free pacemakers, screwed up the surgery, and the patient got infected. he promptly blamed the pacemakers, and the hospital decided they wanted to close down the bank. mum felt awful since there were all these starving patients who were eventually going to die coz one guy screwed up!
and keep up the scare mongering... i dont think much else works!

4:58 am  

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