Norman Borlaug’s Vision for a Better World: Productivity, Policy & People

Posted by on March 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments »

By Margaret M. Zeigler, Ph.D., Executive Director

On Tuesday, March 25, I had the honor of speaking on a panel at USDA to commemorate Dr. Norman Borlaug, the extraordinary father of the Green Revolution. If he were still with us, March 25 would have been his 100th birthday! Borlaug, a man of vision and service, was recognized in Washington, DC, at a special unveiling of his new statue in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall.

Julie Borlaug (granddaughter of Dr. Norman Borlaug); Dr. Julie Howard (Chief Scientist, Feed the Future, USAID); Dr. Margaret Zeigler (Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative); Dr. Robb Fraley (Monsanto)

(L-R) Julie Borlaug (granddaughter of Dr. Norman Borlaug); Dr. Julie Howard (Chief Scientist, Feed the Future, USAID); Dr. Margaret Zeigler (Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative); Dr. Robb Fraley (Monsanto)

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Norman Borlaug several times in the past decade and also visited CIMMYT, the wheat and maize improvement center in Mexico, where he spent time launching the work on high-yielding wheat that would eventually take root in Mexico, Pakistan, India, and so many other places in need.

By 2050, there will be almost 9.6 billion people on our planet from the 7 billion inhabiting it today. As we look ahead to 2050, some 2 billion more people will move from a grain and plant-only based diet to one that is more diverse due to economic growth and entry to a middle class lifestyle.

How can we meet this coming demand for food, for dietary diversity and more protein, and for other uses of agriculture, while conserving the land, water, and natural habitat? How can we do it in the face of climate change and extreme weather?

I believe Norman Borlaug would have given us three tasks to focus on as we seek to meet this global challenge.

First—boost agricultural productivity

TFP RatioIn recent decades countries are beginning to move forward to produce more agricultural output with less resources. This efficiency of production, called total factor productivity, must continue to spread from high income countries to low income countries. Countries such as US, EU, and recently Brazil and China and Mexico have greatly improved the efficiency with which they produce food, feed and fiber, using less land and other natural resources to produce more output. Science-based technologies, including genomics, irrigation, mechanization, and precision analytics to optimize production and manage weather risk, all contribute to this highly productive agriculture. We must find ways to extend these technologies, practices and innovations to more farmers in the developing world and help them become efficient and successful, to realize benefits to their businesses and to their families.

Second—advocate the right policies to create that enabling environment for investment and innovation and partnerships to thrive.

GHI is a policy voice for productivity growth along the entire agricultural value chain to meet the demands of our growing world. We are a partnership of companies, universities, NGOs, regional agriculture organizations, and civil society to support sustainable agricultural policies that will help meet the rising demand of the future.

GHI provides a data-driven approach to explain how 5 key policy areas can boost agricultural productivity. We do this each year through our Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), which is released at the World Food Prize, and we use the data and information in this report to engage directly with policymakers about how they can form a better enabling environment for food security.

Effective public policies create the space and opportunity for those innovations, improvements and investments. Norman Borlaug realized this when he wrestled with the Indian and Pakistani government bureaucracies that were initially resistant to new breeding techniques and new agronomic practices from outside the subcontinent. Norman worked hard to convince governments to allow importation of new technologies and seeds, and it paved the way for adoption of the Green Revolution practices.

Third—keep people at the center of everything you do, especially those who produce our food!

Norman Borlaug always spent time in the field with farmers in developing countries, asking them about their needs and their challenges, and held a farmer-centered vision that pervaded all of his work. We need to continually follow his example and today be sure that women farmers and smallholders are included and put front and center as we work to build a more productive and sustainable agriculture system.

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