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Biographical background on 2005 Dartmouth honorary degree recipientsNORMAN E. BORLAUG(Doctor of Science)

Posted 04/28/05 • Contact Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

Norman E. Borlaug
Norman E. Borlaug

In 1970 Dr. Norman E. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his life's work of ending world hunger. He is credited with saving millions of lives. Although a superlative scientist, perhaps his greatest achievement has been to successfully put agricultural research and technologies into practice in order to combat starvation.

Born and raised in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug displayed skills as an athlete - mainly in wrestling - that opened the path for him to attend the University of Minnesota, where he studied to be a forester. After graduating in 1937, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service before he returned to graduate school at the University of Minnesota and took up the study of plant pathology. He received his Ph.D. in 1942 and went to work as a microbiologist for E.I. Dupont de Nemours until being released from wartime service.

In 1944 he joined a pioneering technical assistance program between the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation, where he was a research scientist in charge of wheat improvement. For the next 16 years he worked to improve wheat cultivation in Mexico and helped train a generation of young Mexican scientists.  In Mexico,  Borlaug developed wheat varieties with broad and stable disease-resistance, broad adaptation to growing conditions, and with exceedingly high yield potential. These wheats and improved crop management practices transformed agricultural production in Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s, sparking what today is known as the "Green Revolution."

By the mid-1960s Borlaug turned to exporting the Mexican wheat varieties and crop management technology to India and Pakistan and later to China, the Middle East, South America, North America and Australia. Over the past 40 years, wheat production in India has increased from 12 to 76 million metric tons; in Pakistan, from 4.5 to 21 million metric tons; and in the world, from 300 to 650 million metric tons.  The high-yielding wheat varieties that Borlaug and his colleagues developed are today grown on more than 187 million acres throughout the world, helping to prevent tens of millions of people from starving.

Borlaug has been a teacher to thousands in his quest to end global hunger and has helped build institutions dedicated to the service of humankind, including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) where he led  the Wheat Program until his official retirement in 1979. Since 1986, he has also been the President of the Sasakawa Africa Association, and leader of the Sasakawa-Global 2000 agricultural program in sub-Saharan Africa which has worked  to increase food production there. Since 1984 Borlaug has been the Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. He also serves as director of both the Population Crisis Committee and Population Communications International, reflecting his long-term concern with the world population explosion and the pressure that this places on global natural resources. Borlaug was also the driving force behind the establishment of the World Food Prize in 1985, which is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding human achievements in the fields of food production and nutrition, and still serves as Chairman of its Council of Advisors.

Honored by scores of governments, universities, scientific associations, farmer groups, and civic associations, Borlaug holds 50 honorary doctorate degrees and belongs to the academies of science in 12 nations. He has served on two U.S. Presidential Commissions: on World Hunger (1978-79) and on Science and Technology (1990-92). He is also a member of the U.S. Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Return to 2005 Commencement press release

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