Monday, September 14, 2009

There is Much to Learn from the Man Who Fed the World

Norman Borlaug, who was reluctantly known as the "father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution," passed away on Saturday night at the age of 95. As the New York Times reports, "[H]is work had a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of people in developing countries. His breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history."

His work is not without controversy. Many critics have claimed that his processes created large corporate farming (at the expense of smaller farmers) and used far too many chemicals. However, there can be little doubt about his impact on the world. The Times reports one estimate that roughly 50% of the world’s population consumes grain that can be traced to the high-yield varieties created by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues.

Perhaps most important, and a continuing lesson to all of us, is that despite his ardent belief in his work, over time he recognized some of the environmental concerns his methods raise, and ultimately advocated a more tempered use of fertilizers and pesticides. In all our work, whether in the law or the sciences, we need to keep in mind that even when the cause is just, and motivation proper, there may be a better way to achieve our goals. In light of the tenor of recent debates on health care and energy legislation, this is clearly a lesson worth learning.