Alumnus, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug visits U

Vincent Staupe

The only University alumnus to have received the Nobel Peace Prize visited the St. Paul campus Monday to mark the release of a new biography.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, 92, is best known for helping start the Green Revolution, a worldwide transformation that increased food production and self-sufficiency in developing countries. Borlaug’s colleagues often credit him with saving an estimated 1 billion people from starvation.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty proclaimed Monday Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Day in the state.

“We’re extremely proud of Dr. Borlaug,” said Carol Ishimaru, who heads the plant pathology department, a sponsor of the event. “He is an example of how scientists have great impacts in the world.”

Through his work in developing disease-resistant, higher-yielding varieties of crops such as wheat, Borlaug – for whom the largest building on the St. Paul campus is named – helped countries such as Mexico, India and Pakistan become self-reliant in staving off famine, according to Dr. Leon Hessler, who wrote Borlaug’s biography, “The Man Who Fed the World.”

Maggie Mangan, an agronomy and plant genetics department graduate student, said she came to see Borlaug because of “his significance to the agronomy department through the work that he’s done.”

Jeremy Daberkow, a teacher at the Agricultural and Food Sciences Academy, a public charter high school in Vadnais Heights, said bringing his students to hear Borlaug provided a chance to encourage students to pursue a career in agriculture.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a forefather in agronomy,” Daberkow said.

Kiya Berhe, a high school junior and a student in Daberkow’s class, said she was excited to attend.

“We came to see Borlaug because he was really good with helping Third World countries,” Berhe said.

Borlaug was born in Iowa in 1914. He graduated from the University in 1937 with a degree in forestry and later earned his master’s degree and doctorate in plant pathology.

Under the mentorship of another University mainstay, E.C. Stakman, Borlaug was sent to Mexico to study the famine crisis.

What resulted were “miracle varieties (of seeds) that led to the Green Revolution, with yields of three, four and five times as much as before,” Hessler said.

In Pakistan, Hessler said Borlaug doubled wheat production in just four years. And India, a country Hessler said many wanted to give up on because of their low yields, became self-reliant, no longer requiring food aid from other countries.

In a speech given at the event, Borlaug emphasized the importance of younger scientists continuing in the agronomy field.

“It’s not just about developing high yields of seed, but developing high yields of people, as well,” he said.