Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Norman Borlaug - LIFE
Norman Borlaug 1970 LIFE Magazine photo

That's the title of John Tierney's post at the NY Times which begins with:

"Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, was celebrated for performing “miracles” by President Bartlet and an African leader in “The West Wing” .... He was described as history’s “greatest human being” by Penn and Teller (in their program featuring Dr. Borlaug and some of his opponents, like Greenpeace). Since his death on Saturday night at the age of 95, tributes from world leaders have been flowing."

While praise for the man is universal, praise for the agricultural revolution that he spawned is not.

Indeed, the range of opinions could not be greater:

For example, Tom Philpott at GRIST observes:

"One of the most ironic things I see in Borlaug obits is the idea that his innovations made countries like Mexico and India “self-sufficient” in food production. Actually, these nations became perilously dependent on foreign input suppliers for their food security.

"In India, site of the Green Revolution’s greatest putative triumph, the legacy is even more mixed.

"Today in India’s grain belt, less than 40 years after Borlaug’s Nobel triumph, the water table has been nearly completely tapped out by massive irrigation projects, farmers are in severe economic crisis, and cancer rates, seemingly related to agrichemical use, are tragically high.

"In other words, to generate the massive yield gains that won Borlaug his Nobel, the nation sacrificed its most productive farmland and a generation of farmers. Meanwhile, as in Mexico, urban poverty and malnutrition in India’s urban centers remained stubbornly persistent.

"For me, the point isn’t that Borlaug is a villain and that crop yields don’t matter; rather, it’s that boosting yield alone can’t solve hunger problems in any but the most fleeting way. Farmers’ economic well-being; biodiversity; ecology; local knowledge, buy-in, and food traditions—all of these things matter, too."

1 comment:

PeaceFromTrees said...

This guy may of meant well, but as documented on NPR, over a 1,000 farmers in India committed suicide this year because of this guy's foolery...

Just like all the other modern ag bafoons he thinks you can grow more food today without regard for the consequences of loss of the topsoil and groundwater of tomorrow!

India used to practice dry farming which depended on diversity of crops / top soil maintenance and natural rainfall that correlated to forest cover.

Before Norman these people also actually had water in their streams and the microbes that maintained topsoil weren't poisoned to death and washed away in the monsoons...

Now thanks to this dude the only water is 200' feet below ground and the only way to get a plant to grow disease free is with a profitable soup of chemicals-corporation products. Not to mention all the money that poor people have to give to the well drillers!

And over a thousands suicides just this year alone? He sounds like a neo-colonial agent of genocide if you ask me!