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Quotes by and about Norman Borlaug

Father of the Green Revolution, an agricultural model that fed much of the world.

“Everything else can wait, agriculture can’t.”

“Almost certainly, the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world. Yet today 50 percent of the world’s population goes hungry. Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless . . . If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread, otherwise there will be no peace.”

“How can the world justify expending $900 billion on military operations and armaments and only a pittance on roads and schools?”

“I am confident that the Earth can provide food for as many as ten billion people – six times the number who lived when I was born – if, and this is a big if, the world’s societies support a steady stream of both conventional and biotechnology research and political policymakers stay attuned to the needs of rural development.”

"It would be helpful when you're working on these problems to develop a skin as thick as a rhino's hide, so you don't feel all the darts. Oh, there are lots of critics. If you don't do anything you'll never have critics."

Borlaug and the Green Revolution

“At the core of the Green Revolution was a grain revolution, with Borlaug’s wheat providing roughly 23 percent of the world’s calories.”
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Professor of Economics at Houston University

“You have to understand that Norman Borlaug has no ego. He’s the world’s greatest humanist. He cannot stand to see people suffer.”
- Richard Zeyen, professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota

Borlaug in college

“I’m nothing special. But I know damn well I’m better than that – that place for the misfits they expect to drop out.”
- Norman Borlaug, on being denied entry into the University of Minnesota

“I think I’ve learned a primal rule of nature. You see, it wasn’t me at all. It was primitive, rudimentary. I can’t explain how hungry I was. I was starving, and I found out that a hungry man is worse than a hungry beast.”
- Norman Borlaug, a collegiate wrestler, on what it felt like to lose weight for a match

“He has great depth of courage and determination. He will not be defeated by difficulty and he burns with a missionary zeal.”
- Professor E.C. Stakman, recommending Borlaug to the Rockefeller Foundation

The Greatest Worker Ever

“He had that small town farmers-help-farmers-help-each-other spirit. He was strong and he knew he was strong and he knew he could use his strength to help others.”
- Richard Zeyen, professor of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota

“Don’t try to discourage me, Ed. I know how much work is involved. Don’t tell me what can’t be done. Tell me what needs to be done – and let me do it. There’s one single factor that makes the Yaqui effort worth a try, and that’s rust. Breeding two generations a year means beating and staying ahead of the shifty stem-rust organism. If I can lick that problem by working in Sonora, then we’ve won a victory. To hell with the extra work and strain. It’s got to be done, and I believe I can do it.”
- Norman Borlaug, wanting to double breed plants in Mexico

“If this is a firm decision, I also make a firm decision. You will have to find someone else to conform to your rules,” Borlaug told him. “You’re laying down a policy that is wrong. And I can’t go along with it. As of now, I resign. You’ll have it in writing first thing in the morning.”
- Norman Borlaug, when his double breeding plan was denied (he eventually won out)

“He simply came to my rescue because at that time my team and I didn’t have a lot to extend to the Pakistani farmers. What Borlaug did was a real miracle.”
- Leon Hesser, working for the U.S. State Department and charged with increasing food production in Pakistan, an impossible task until Borlaug showed up

“I am going to follow Minister Subramaniam’s suggestion and speak very bluntly to Minister Mehta about the government’s disastrous policy on fertilizer, credit and grain prices. The meeting will very likely be stormy and I may be asked to leave the country, so you better keep a low profile. Should that happen, you and Dr. Anderson can keep the wheat revolution moving forward.”
- Norman Borlaug in India

Borlaug and the Environment

“I was at once drawn into the vortex. As soon as you start to challenge an emotive issue you get attacked by feverish, committed people. I was subjected to insult, mudslinging, trashy verbal assault. I knew all that would come. But what could I do but accept the responsibility?”
- Norman Borlaug

“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. They have never produced a ton of food. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 60 years, they’d be crying out for fertilizer, herbicides, irrigation canals and tractors and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”
- Norman Borlaug

“To this day, I enjoy nature, the luxury of undisturbed wilderness, forests, mountains, lakes, rivers and deserts and their wildlife. But I also know that the greatest danger to their perpetuity is the pressure of human population.”
- Norman Borlaug

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the environmental movement that has taken place over the past 40 years. This movement has led to legislation to improve air and water quality, protect wildlife, control the disposal of toxic wastes, protect the soils, and reduce the loss of biodiversity. It is ironic, therefore, that the platform of the antibiotechnology extremists, if it were to be adopted, would have grievous consequences for both the environment and humanity. I often ask the critics of modern agricultural technology: What would the world have been like without the technological advances that have occurred? For those who profess a concern for protecting the environment, consider the positive impact resulting from the application of science-based technology.”
- Norman Borlaug

Borlaug points out that in order to produce 1999’s world cereal crop using 1961 agricultural methods, an additional 2 billion acres would have to be under cultivation - that’s 3 million square miles – about the size of the contiguous United States. Instead this land can be used for other purposes, such as wilderness preserves. This type of evidence suggests that Borlaug’s Green Revolution may have saved more land for wilderness than any single environmental organization.
- Billy Woodward, author of Scientists Greater than Einstein