Forty-five years ago this past Friday, Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. “More than any other person of (the) age,” the Nobel Committee stated, the Christ follower had “helped to provide bread for a hungry world.”
Indeed, Dr. Borlaug, who grew up on an Iowa farm, who earned a Ph.D in plant pathology, was the father of the “green revolution.” His breakthroughs in breeding high-yielding crops averted the mass famines widely predicted during the 1960s. In so doing, he “alter(ed) the course of history,” the New York Times eulogized in 2009.
In his Nobel Lecture, Borlaug noted, “Man’s survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability to ensure his food supply.” And even the invention of agriculture did not free man from fear of food shortages, hunger, and famine.
“That such catastrophes occurred periodically in ancient times is amply clear from numerous biblical references,” said Borlaug, a baptized and confirmed Lutheran. Then the Nobel laureate proceeded to quote several Old Testament scriptures.
“Thus, the Lord said: ‘I have smitten you with blasting and mildew.’” “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered… The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”
Borlaug’s life’s calling occurred when he was but a lad, growing up on a farm in Iowa. “He’d wonder,” his sister Charlotte remembered, “why in some areas the grass would be so green, then over here it wouldn’t be.”
That God had anointed Borlaug to feed the world’s hungry was evident by a remark the Nobel laureate told a biographer.
“When wheat is ripening properly, ” said Borlaug, “when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together. “They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”
Like the still, small voice of God.
Borlaug’s de facto ministry began in earnest in 1944 when he joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican hunger project. The goal was to boost the underdeveloped country’s wheat production to feed its growing population.
When Borlaug arrived in Mexico, he was almost overcome with despair, as the New York Times recounted. The soils were depleted. The crops were disease-ridden. And yields were so low Mexican farmers could hardly feed their own families, much less a hungry nation.
But the Lord was with Borlaug. During his 16 years with the Mexican hunger project, he succeeded in breeding high-yield, disease-resistant, semi-dwarf wheat. And by the early 1960s, Mexican wheat output had increased to six times the levels of the early 1940s.
The Mexico miracle prompted the governments of India and Pakistan to seek Borlaug’s help, after which the two nations ordered shiploads of his wheat seeds. And, much like Mexico, both India and Pakistan saw exponential increases in their wheat harvests, enabling both nations to avoid famine.
Then Borlaug lent his God-given gifts to a project in the Philippines to work on rice, the staple crop for roughly half the world’s population. Employing the same breeding process he used to develop Mexican wheat, Borlaug developed new varieties of rice that produced several times the yield of traditional varieties.
Borlaug’s contribution to humanity can hardly be overstated. As Gary H. Toenniessen, the Rockefeller Foundation’s director of agricultural programs, said in 2009 – the year Borlaug went to be with the Lord – half the world’s population (goes) to bed each night after consuming grain descended from one of Borlaug’s high-yield varieties.
And that is why the Christ follower has been called “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.”
Indeed, that’s exactly what Christ, Himself, foretold more than 2000 years ago as He sat down to the Last Supper with His disciples.
“Most assuredly,” the Lord told them, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will also do; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”