Norman Ernest Borlaug was born on March 25, 1914 on a small farm in Cresco, Iowa. He entered the University of Minnesota in 1933 and obtained a bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1937. Then, he pursued graduate work in the Department of Plant Pathology under the aegis of the pre-eminent Professor Elvin C. Stakman, earning his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 1939 and 1942, respectively.
After graduating from the university, he accepted a position at the DuPont company in Delaware where he conducted research important to the war effort. In 1944, Borlaug was recruited by Stakman to work on the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Mexican Project,” which was based near Mexico City. During this time, Borlaug worked as a plant pathologist/breeder and eventually headed the wheat improvement program. By using methods initially developed by Stakman, Borlaug developed high-yielding, semi-dwarf wheat varieties that were resistant to disease. The cultivation of these and other adapted wheats in Mexico enabled the country to become self-sufficient in wheat production by 1956 and a net exporter by 1963.
Realizing the great potential of these semi-dwarf wheats, Borlaug assiduously worked to introduce them to Pakistan and India where severe food shortages were common in the early 1960s. The wide scale planting of these varieties nearly doubled wheat production in Pakistan and India, thereby averting mass famine. Pakistan became self-sufficient in wheat production in 1968 and India in 1974.
This immense increase in wheat production significantly increased global food security and earned Borlaug such titles as “the father of the Green Revolution,” “the Peaceful Revolutionary,” and “The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives.” In 1970, in recognition for his contributions to world peace through improved food security, Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was feted with many other awards, and is one of only five people to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2006). Borlaug passed away on September 12, 2009 at age 95.