Norman Borlaug

by Guruprasad

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1960, Mexico.
Dr. Norman Borlaug showing his High Yielding Variety (HYV) semi-dwarf wheat in Mexico which was created as a result of his intense research of crossing different varieties of wheat. Norman passed away in 2009 at the age of 95.

In one of the previous pics, we saw how India had faced severe food shortage in 1960s and there was a mention about Green Revolution which made India self sufficient in grains.

If Dr. M.S.Swaminathan is called the father of Indian Green Revolution, then Dr. Norman Borlaug can be called the grandfather :)

Let me share some info about Norman and his work leading to global green revolution, so that we can appreciate his role in Indian green revolution.

Borlaug started his career wih DuPont (one of the most reputed chemical companies) in 1942. But he always wanted to do something good for the society. During 1940s, Mexico was reeling under food shortage due to its rapidly increasing population and it started becoming a cause of concern for Borlaug. The Rockefeller foundation started a project to work on solving this problem and invited volunteers to join. Borlaug did not hesitate to quit his job at DuPont and join the foundation to work full time on the “Mexican hunger” project.

He used to spend 12-15 hours on the farm fields, carefully examining every kind of crop, soil, and researching on the effect of fertilizers on crop growth and so on. He tried some innovative methods of cross breeding between different varieties of wheat to come up with new ones (He headed a team which eventually made 6000 individual crossings of wheat of all combinations!!). During his research, he found that adding fertilizer causes the wheat to grow 2-3 times its height and improve yield, but it caused another problem. Such high rise lean crops used to sway a lot due to winds and most of them would fall off, hence effectively decreasing the overall produce.

So, he started experimenting with shorter wheat variety from Japan which was of semi-dwarf category and came up with a new breed of High Yielding Variety (HYV) which had 2-3 times the yield and at the same time did not grow tall and stayed thick and resistant to falling off. This was his major breakthrough which fuelled the green revolution in Mexico. There were many varieties of such HYV wheat he came up with, each being suitable for a certain climatic and soil condition. One such variety which was named “K68” was used for the Green Revolution in India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later for his contribution to the society in curbing hunger.

How did Swaminathan from India come in contact with Norman? Although Norman & Swaminathan wanted to solve India’s hunger problem, did they receive a warm welcome from Indian bureaucracy or did they have to fight with Indian bureaucrats to solve India’s problems? Which event finally led to the bureaucrats to succumb and allow these visionaries to carry out the green revolution in India? How long did it take for India to become self sufficient? All these questions will be answered using different photos and narrations later :)