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Views from the Center


Lawrence MacDonald and Norman BorlaugLast week CGD hosted a talk by 1970 Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug on The Prospects for Bringing a Green Revolution to Africa. The event was sparked by the publication of a fine new biography, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger (Amazon ) by Leon Hesser, former head of agriculture for USAID.

I first met Dr. Borlaug when I was a sophomore in high school. Immediately after the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, my father, then the director of public affairs at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a California state agricultural college, sent Dr. Borlaug a telegram inviting him to speak at the college. Dr. Borlaug accepted. He later told my father that the telegram was the first invitation to arrive. Had he known how many other prestigious invitations would follow, he said, he never would have accepted.
That summer my father took me and my brothers along with him to Mexico where he interviewed Dr. Borlaug and filmed him at work in the fields at CIMMYT, the International Center for the Improvement of Corn and Wheat. I remember standing in the fields while Dr. Borlaug explained the basics of the Green Revolution—no doubt my brothers and I were convenient props for my father’s documentary.
That trip to Mexico was my first encounter with developing country poverty, and with the idea that research funded by the rich world could make a huge difference in the lives of poor people. It was the beginning of my interest in development. So in a very real sense, without Dr. Borlaug it is unlikely that I would be working at CGD today.
But then I am hardly unique in having had Dr. Borlaug change my life for the better. There are perhaps a billion people on the planet who would not be where they are today were it not for the Green Revolution.
I told this story to Dr. Borlaug last week when he came to CGD. He is 93 years old and has given thousands of talks about the Green Revolution. So I did not expect that he would remember his talk at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or our visit with him in Mexico. I was wrong. He remembered details about the talk that I had not heard from my father and asked that I send along his greetings to my dad.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.