Botany – A Blooming History episode 3 – Hidden World: For 10,000 years or more, humans created new plant varieties for food by trial and error and a touch of serendipity.
Then 150 years ago, a new era began. Pioneer botanists unlocked the patterns found in different types of plants and opened the door to a new branch of science – plant genetics. They discovered what controlled the random colours of snapdragon petals and the strange colours found in wild maize.
This was vital information. Some botanists even gave their lives to protect their collection of seeds. American wheat farmer Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel peace prize after he bred a new strain of wheat that lifted millions of people around the world out of starvation. Today, botanists believe advances in plant genetics hold the key to feeding the world’s growing population.
Botany – A Blooming History episode 3 – Hidden World
Norman Ernest Borlaug was an American agronomist who led initiatives worldwide that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production termed the Green Revolution. Borlaug was awarded multiple honors for his work, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Borlaug received his B.S. in forestry in 1937 and Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position with CIMMYT in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties. During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations.
Borlaug was often called “the father of the Green Revolution”, and is credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. According to Jan Douglas, executive assistant to the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, the source of this number is Gregg Easterbrook’s 1997 article “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity.” The article states that the “form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.” He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.