Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate for fighting famine, dies
04:24 PM CDT on Sunday, September 13, 2009 Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist and father of the "green revolution" who was credited with saving 1 billion lives from famine, died in Dallas at age 95.
Dr. Borlaug died late Saturday night at his home from complications of cancer, said Kathleen Phillips, a Texas A&M University spokeswoman.
"And he said 'What about Africa?'" his granddaughter recalled. "And I think that's a testament to the kind of person he was – concerned right to the end."
Dr. Borlaug had been a distinguished professor at Texas A&M in College Station since 1984. He taught during the fall semester and worked the rest of the year on projects to combat world hunger.
"We have lost our strongest champion for reducing hunger worldwide," Dr. Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University, said in a statement issued Sunday. "We must now recommit ourselves to educating and training the next generation of agricultural scientists who will continue Dr. Borlaug's work to reduce world hunger and eliminate famine."
The Nobel committee honored Dr. Borlaug in 1970 for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing agricultural innovations to the developing world. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.
"More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world," Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Dr. Borlaug. "We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."
His roots were in rural America and the Great Depression had a profound influence on his life.
Born March 25, 1914, on his grandparents' farm in Iowa, he attended grade school in a one-room schoolhouse. He played football and baseball, but credited wrestling for teaching him to persevere and give "105 percent."
During the Depression, Dr. Borlaug saw many malnourished men. Their plight stayed with him, he told The Dallas Morning News in a 2007 interview.
"You'd see young people asking for a nickel to buy bread and older people sleeping in the park," he said. "We were a pretty sick nation at that time. It made me tough. I was angry that this kind of condition could exist and persist in our own society."
After World War II, he joined a new program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to assist poor farmers in Mexico. With a team of young scientists from all over the world, he developed the disease-resistant wheat distinguished by their higher yields and greater adaptability.
In the mid-'60s, doomsayers predicted that war and overpopulation would produce mass starvation in India and Pakistan - and nothing could be done about it. Dr. Borlaug thought his new wheat seeds could help prevent the looming catastrophe.
Bureaucrats initially thwarted him. But as the famine grew worse, he was permitted to move forward. Within a year, wheat yields more than doubled. Over the next eight years, the two countries became self-sufficient in wheat production. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dr. Borlaug quoted the prize's creator, Alfred Nobel: "I would rather take care of the stomachs of the living than the glory of the departed in the form of monuments."
In July 2007, Dr. Borlaug received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
Though fame eluded him, he had probably done more than anyone else in history to make the world a better place, said Dr. Ed Runge, retired head of Texas A&M's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a close friend who recruited Dr. Borlaug to teach at the university.
Dr. Runge said the two had met in Dallas last week. "I felt he would rank up there with President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. I told him: 'They won the war, but you won the food war.' "
In recent years, Dr. Borlaug had been battling lymphoma. Margaret, the wife of 69 years whom he met in college, died in 2007. She was 95.
He is survived by daughter Jeanie Borlaug Laube and her husband Rex; son William Gibson Borlaug and his wife Barbie; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Julie Borlaug said her grandfather will be cremated, and that plans are being made to hold a memorial service at Texas A&M on Oct. 6. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush are tentatively scheduled to speak.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.