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Norman Borlaug
Norman Borlaug
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Norman Borlaug Interview (page: 3 / 9)

Ending World Hunger

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  Norman Borlaug

Is there a part of you that enjoys the fight? This struggle with politicians and nay-sayers?

Norman Borlaug: Sure. Sure. Otherwise, I would've given up a long time ago when Paul Ehrlich and the Paddock brothers were saying you can't do anything in India or Pakistan because of the population problem.

What is it that you enjoy about that fight?

Norman Borlaug: Change.

I say that the only way that the world can keep up with food production to the levels that are needed with a growing world population, is by the improvement of science and technology, and with the right policies that permit the application of that science and technology. And that includes availability of the improved seeds, fertilizer -- how much of each kind of nutrient -- and the control of weeds, which is very important, and then, finally, this whole question of credit and policy on pricing. All of those have to be part of the package.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

We had the good fortune in Pakistan of having a person who was really not supposed to be working in agriculture. Haldore Hanson was the Ford Foundation country representative. Ford Foundation at that time was not working in agriculture. They were beginning to collaborate in India with the Rockefeller Foundation. But in Pakistan, no. But here was Haldore Hanson when we had demonstrated how much improvement you could get in the yield. He brought in from Mexico Dr. Ignacio Narváez, my most trusted, most experienced Mexican who had grown up under the system. He had an unusual economist, Oddvar Aresvik, a Norwegian who was different from the rest of them because he wanted to see what happened with these different treatments. So he actually went out and looked at those demonstrations and he saw the errors that were being incorporated, and so he was strongly supporting Narváez and Hanson.

Norman Borlaug Interview Photo
And Hanson, the only way he had to get into production was through this demonstration. So he, Narváez from Mexico, and Aresvik the Norwegian economist, and later Bob Havener. The Ford Foundation damn near destroyed the program, when you could see everything was ready to unfold. They sent Hanson as the new director to Nigeria, and they sent Narváez and Aresvik and Havener, who later became Director of CIMMYT, to Lebanon to start the program of dry land.

Around 1965, you started some testing in India and Pakistan. You had 250 tons of seed varieties sent to Pakistan and 200 tons sent to India. Is it true those shipments had trouble getting there from Mexico?

Norman Borlaug: Even before they left Mexico. The organization insisted that this was the first time that a commercial operation was taking place, and that their seed organization, the Semillas Mejoradas, had to enter into the operation, because it was government-to-government. This organization was notoriously bad for producing seed that had bad germination, mixtures of varieties, but they got the contract.

Wasn't there some trouble at customs?

Norman Borlaug: There was trouble. I thought my boss, Dr. Wellhausen, was away on home leave, and he said, "Norm, you've got to stay in the office here and not be running up to Sonora now with all of this, because the whole program will depend on what you do here." And I said, "Yes, sir." But when all of the trouble started happening in Sonora, I just went up there, see what I could do, find out the facts. And when the seed arrived, it arrived too late. It was shipped from a coöp in Hermosillo, not in the Yaqui Valley, because the harvest was finishing when we got noticed from ship to seed; so it came from Hermosillo. We ended up with bad germination. The seed arrived too late for us to run germination tests because it arrived in the middle of December. We wanted it the middle of October. So we planted without germination tests. I was in southern Pakistan and Narváez was in northern Pakistan, and a few days after planting, we were digging and we saw something was wrong with the germination. So we told the ministers to double the seeding rate, and of course that doubled the cost.

What was the problem with the seeds?

Norman Borlaug Interview Photo
Norman Borlaug: The problem with the seed was that in the same warehouse they had commercial grain seed, and they used the dosage of methyl bromide, a fumigant, for a commercial grain, which raised havoc with the germination of the experimental wheat coming out of the same warehouse. Of course, in this period, from the time we shipped in the first semi-commercial quantities of seed to Pakistan and India, there was many things that went wrong. Very few of them went right. Delays in shipment from Mexico, even though I thought I had arranged it all at the border, the Mexican bureaucracy got into it. Then the seed for both Pakistan and India were on the same freighter going out of Los Angeles. I should've added that when the seed came to Los Angeles, it was shipped through the area closest to the airport coming from Mexico, and that was where all the trouble was going on in bureaucracy.

War broke out in 1965 between India and Pakistan in the middle of this experiment, with tons of seed varieties arriving. By doubling the seeding rates, South Asia produced the highest crop yields ever harvested. Do you credit these high yields with quieting the civil unrest between India and Pakistan?

Norman Borlaug: I knew at that time that civil unrest was tightly tied to availability of food, and that the first thing that there will be an uprising against was shortage of food. I recognized that. So we began this multi-location testing, not just in Mexico and India and Pakistan, but in another 30, 40 locations from Canada to Argentina, and then it was 100 locations. And then you could see clearly what was happening.

The increased need for labor, for harvesting, for equipment, for storage facilities, for transportation vehicles -- this put these countries to work and they put down the guns and went to work and started to feed themselves.

Norman Borlaug: And it was mostly young people that we had trained that carried the burden, because they had seen the changes, not just numbers. They had seen the plots. So you didn't have any problems convincing them. It was the government policy makers. But fortunately, there were a few like Ayub Khan and his Minister of Agriculture who saw the light. And then not too much later, M.S. Swaminathan and his Minister of Agriculture, (Chidambaram) Subramaniam, and his (Secretary of Agriculture), Sivaraman. They were all three from the south, not a wheat-growing area originally.

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This page last revised on Sep 04, 2008 13:33 EDT