Borlaug elevates agriculture as reason for National Medal of Science honor

November 18, 2005

COLLEGE STATION - At 91, Dr. Norman Borlaug recounts a lifetime of work in agriculture, targeting food for the world's hungriest, poorest nations. And for all the miserable, malnourished multitudes, he holds this hope: accessible education for everyone in every country on Earth.

His much touted talent for agricultural development coupled with his keen awareness of societal ailments in Third World countries have brought many honors. The most recent is the National Medal of Science, the highest given to scientists in the United States, which was announced Tuesday by President Bush.

From his office at Texas A&M University, where he is distinguished professor of international agriculture, Borlaug said the honor may help point to the importance of agriculture.

"We all eat food at least three times a day in the privileged nations, and yet we take it for granted," said Borlaug, a Nobel Laureate and the only agriculturist named for the honor this year.

Borlaug's ability to link food with education to solve issues around the world is the prime example of what agriculture is about, according to Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture at Texas A&M.

"Dr. Borlaug has long been the model for what agricultural researchers strive for," Murano said. "His persistence in using science to develop answers for hungry people is at the heart of improvements that have been recognized around the world."

For Borlaug, situations around the world have defined his career.

"There were 1.6 billion people in the world the year I was born. There are 6.4 billion now," notes Borlaug, who won the Noble Peace Prize in 1970 for his development of high-yielding wheat varieties that helped feed the world. "Hunger is commonplace and famine appears all too often. I've seen big change, but still there are a lot of poor, hungry miserable people in the world."

Borlaug maintains encyclopedic knowledge of hunger from the beginning of his career in 1944 as a wheat researcher for a cooperative program between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government. He recalled waves of famine that have swept Asia, Africa and Central and South America periodically through those decades.

"There has been great progress. Food is more equitably distributed," he said. "(But) we still have about 84 million more people added to the world population each year and unfortunately most ... are in countries that are already food deficit or marginal with a lot of poverty and illiteracy."

That's why agriculture - with its ability to yield increasingly higher amounts of food - must go hand-in-hand with efforts to educate the masses, he said.

"Speaking on behalf of A&M's 55,000 students, faculty and staff, I congratulate Dr. Borlaug on being selected for this signal honor -- one of many he has so deservedly received during his long and illustrious career. We are fortunate, indeed, to have him on our faculty and look forward to having the university continue to benefit from his vital work and its highly positive worldwide impact, particularly in helping feed hungry people in some of the regions most in need," said Dr. Robert M. Gates, Texas A&M president.

"I hope the (the Medal of Science) honor calls attention to the large and ongoing problem," Borlaug said.

The award will be presented to Borlaug and six other recipients at a later date.

Two other Texas A&M faculty members have received this award: Dr. F. Albert Cotton, distinguished professor of chemistry, 1982; and, Dr. George Bass, distinguished emeritus professor of anthropology, 2001.

Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

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