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Review: The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norm Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger

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Message Norm Goldman
Author: Leon Hesser
ISBN: 1903754906

In 1970 Dr. Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his extensive work and dedication in the fields of agriculture and food. As Leon Hesser author of The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norm Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger, points out, "there is no Nobel Food Prize. Consequently, the Nobel Committee chose Dr. Borlaug for his brilliant breakthroughs and wheat production technology that led to the relief of hunger in much of the world." Hesser first met Borlaug in 1986 in Pakistan, where Hesser and his crew of agricultural advisors helped in the introduction of Borlaug's high-yielding wheat varieties and technology. The results were unbelievable as Pakistan doubled its wheat production and achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by 1968. A similar program was carried out in India with the same amazing results.

In the introduction to The Man Who Fed the World Hesser states "writing the life story of this great man is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done." After reading this intriguing authorized biography, I can well-understand how Hesser must have felt to have been able to know and work with this brilliant scientist who is "hailed as the person who saved the lives of more people-hundreds of millions-from starvation than any person in history."

Hesser manages to cover a lot of ground as he traces Borlaug's early years growing up on a farm in Iowa, where he developed his work ethic. His first eight grades of school were in the same one-teacher, one-room schoolhouse. Despite economic hardships during depression times, his grandfather Nels encouraged him to attend college and he enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, as Borlaug candidly admits, he "flunked the entrance exam beautifully." However, this did not deter him and he eventually found his way into the university's College of Agriculture. It was also during his college years where he met his future wife, Margaret Gibson who has been a great inspiration to him during his entire life.

As a college student, Borlaug was disturbed by the human misery that existed at the time in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and where he witnessed both hunger for food and hunger for work. No doubt, this had been the catalyst that encouraged him to follow a path wherein food shortages would be combated.

As Hesser points out, Borlaug's first challenge came about when, as a thirty-year- old scientist, he was offered a post with the Rockefeller Foundation to join a team of scientists to lead a conquest against endemic hunger in Mexico. It was the result of this venture in Mexico that there was a dramatic reversal from widespread starvation to self-sufficiency in basic food stuffs in India, Pakistan, Asian sub-continent and a number of other countries as well as in Mexico. As Hesser states, "Norman Borlaug had embarked on three innovations that formed the foundation of a wheat revolution in Mexico and ultimately fostered the Green Revolution in Asia." Moreover, in addition to his scientific breakthroughs, Borlaug was also instrumental in reaching out internationally in the training of young scientists in research and production methods.

In just over 219 pages Hesser takes a swift tour of the legacy of Norman Borlaug portraying a vigorous and practical humanitarian whose modus operandi has always been "don't tell me what can't be done, tell me what needs to be done-and let me do it." He adopted, as he termed it, "the kick-off approach," which rejected the hypothesis that agricultural development of necessity has to be slow.

Hesser conveys meaningful insight in the life of probably one of the greatest humanitarians who ever lived, as we are provided with a wealth of background detail that will be of interest to readers not familiar Norman Borlaug. Moreover, this is an absorbing tale that it renders one virtually speechless as to the amazing accomplishments of this great scientist!
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