Sunday, September 13, 2009

World should mourn the loss of the world's greatest man.

In this writer's opinion, it is no exaggeration to say that the world has just lost one of the greatest human beings who has ever lived, perhaps the greatest. We often judge the nature of evil by the number of human lives that were extinguished. Names that come to mind, of such cruel killers include Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Che, and Castro. In the name of some "greater good" these individuals extinguished the lives of others.

Conversely I would argue that saving lives is a sign of human good. And I can not think of anyone responsible for saving more lives than Normal Borlaug. Borlaug died at the age of 95, while still working on saving lives.

Borlaug spent his life trying to figure out how to increase food production. Through his research on plant breeding and crop management Borlaug expanded the world's food supply faster than the populations grew. The LA Times notes:

In 1960, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, largely as a result of Borlaug's pioneering techniques, it was producing 1.9 billion tons for 5.6 billion people -- using only 1% more land.

On the occasion of Borlaug's 90th birthday, former President Jimmy Carter said that he "has been demonstrating practical ways to give people of the entire world a higher quality of life. . . . He is a true humanitarian."

Added former Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), Borlaug's "scientific leadership not only saved people from starvation, but the high-yield seeds he bred saved millions of square miles of wildlife from being plowed down. He is one of the great men of our age."

Borlaug received support from the large foundation. But with the rise of the environmental movement pressure was put on the foundations to stop funding Borlaug's work. Gregg Easterbrook wrote:
The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, once sponsors of his work, have recently given Borlaug the cold shoulder. Funding institutions have also cut support for the International Maize and Wheat Center -- located in Mexico and known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT -- where Borlaug helped to develop the high-yield, low-pesticide dwarf wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world's population now depends for sustenance. And though Borlaug's achievements are arguably the greatest that Ford or Rockefeller has ever funded, both foundations have retreated from the last effort of Borlaug's long life: the attempt to bring high-yield agriculture to Africa.

The African continent is the main place where food production has not kept pace with population growth: its potential for a Malthusian catastrophe is great. Borlaug's initial efforts in a few African nations have yielded the same rapid increases in food production as did his initial efforts on the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s. Nevertheless, Western environmental groups have campaigned against introducing high-yield farming techniques to Africa, and have persuaded image-sensitive organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the World Bank to steer clear of Borlaug. So far the only prominent support for Borlaug's Africa project has come from former President Jimmy Carter, a humanist and himself a farmer, and from the late mediagenic multimillionaire Japanese industrialist Ryoichi Sasakawa.
The great enemy of Borlaug turned out to be government bureaucracies which often stood in the way of his work. The Times wrote that when scientists, using Borlaug's techniques produced a new variety of rice, corn and wheat they went to India and Pakistan with the information. But in both nations the seed distribution was under the control of the governments. The Times says the scientists were "unable to convince the state-owned seed companies to adopt" the new seeds. By the mid 60s both India and Pakistan were facing famine and finally decided to accept the new seed. Borlaug "organized a shipment of 35 truckloads of dwarf wheat seeds." But the seeds, produced in Mexico ran into problsm with Customs and "couldn't be shipped from Mexico" so Borlaug sent them to Los Angeles instead for shipping. That wasn't the end of government bungling however:
U.S. customs officials held them up at the border before finally permitting them to cross. Then National Guard troops detoured them from Los Angeles because of the Watts riots. Finally, the $100,000 check drawn on the Pakistani ministry bounced because of three misspelled words on its face.

Ultimately, the cargo ship set sail for Karachi and Bombay and Borlaug went to bed relieved, only to wake the next morning to word that India and Pakistan had gone to war.

Because of the delays, the team had no time for germination studies and planting was started immediately, often in sight of artillery flashes. "We did a lot of praying," he later recalled.

Despite the problems, the new crop was 98% bigger than the previous year's and the Asian subcontinent was placed on a new path. India ordered 18,000 tons of seed from Mexico and the harvest was so big that there was a shortage of labor to harvest it, too few bullock carts to haul it to the threshing floor, and an insufficiency of jute bags, trucks, rail cars and torage facilities.

By 1968, Pakistan was self-sufficient in food production. India joined it in 1974.
It is no exaggeration to say that Norman Borlaug saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions. And the saving of lives will go on for generations to come. I suggest that future efforts to expand his work will meet the same two enemies: state bureaucracy and the environmental movement.

Witness how both those groups have stripped the third world of needed food, in order to produce fuel in wealthy nations that no one wants, which is unprofitable to produce, and which is more damaging than the fuel it replaces. Borlaug himself had warned, decades ago: "One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the world may be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflaged bureaucracy." Attacks by environmentalist doomsayer Paul Ehrlich, Borlaug said, probably effected his funding. He said foundations would "hear his criticisms, and I'm sure there were some people at Rockefeller saying, 'Maybe we shouldn't fund that program anymore.' It always has adverse effects on budgeting."

Borlaug warned that the Green elites tended to be wealthy, urban individuals who saw the "wilderness" as a place to vacation, but wouldn't want to live there. "Our elites live in big cities and are far removed from the fields. Whether it's [Lester] Brown, or [Paul] Ehrlich or the head of the Sierra Club or the head of Greenpeace, they've never been hungry." Borlaug warned that the urban elites in the West "are easily swayed by these scare stories that we are on the verge of being poisoned out of existence by farm chemicals."

Environmentalists have long championed coercive measures "to make the world a better place." Normal Borlaug actually did make the world a better place. His only crime was that he wasn't saving insects, but the lives of people in Asia, Africa, and Central America. And in the Green hierarchy of values humans come last. Save the snail, the tree frog or some bug but let the people die. So, in the end, I tend to see these Browns and Ehrlich's of the world in the same category as people like Castro and Che. Che's methods were more brutal but the environmental movement has been far more deadly -- just their lobbying against DDT to stop malaria alone resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people. When South Africa followed the advice of environmentalists and banned DDT use to control mosquitoes the death rate from malaria jumped 400%. In KwaZulu Natal, when DDT was reintroduced the deaths per year dropped to zero from 340 previously. When it comes to Borlaug he is the perfect antithesis of Mao, Stalin or Hitler. Where they killed people by the millions, Borlaug saved the lives of people by the millions.

If ever a man deserved all the honors that the world could heap, in unmeasurable proportions, that man would be Norman Borlaug.

Labels: , , ,