Photo: CIMMYTNorman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution
Why are we picking on a Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s often credited with “saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation“? This plant geneticist got Mexico, Pakistan, and India to adopt high-yield, disease-resistant seeds for wheat and other staple crops, upping their ability to produce food. But he also hooked them — and later, some African and Asian countries — on costly imported inputs such as synthetic nitrogen and chemical herbicides and pesticides. And now, in India, the brand of industrial ag championed by Borlaug stands on the brink of collapse — its heavy reliance on irrigation has essentially tapped out the water table in little more than a generation. And in Mexico, where Borlaug’s work as a plant breeder saw its first success, industrial ag and global markets have forced millions of small farmers off of the land, giving rise to the U.S. “immigration crisis” that so inflames the present-day Tea Partiers. No doubt, Borlaug’s innovations fed millions — but ultimately, they’ve been proven unsustainable, and the practices they entrenched threaten to plunge millions more into misery.
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