Biotech Updates

ISAAA Mourns the Loss and Pays Tribute to its Founding Patron, Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, 1914 - 2009

September 18, 2009

Father of the Green Revolution. Nobel Peace Laureate. Champion of Small and Resource-poor Farmers in the Developing World. Founder of the World Food Prize.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, an icon of agricultural development for the poor, died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95 years young. Born on a farm in Cresco, Iowa, USA, he left his footprints in agriculture through his personal and professional commitment to fight hunger and poverty, pioneering work in the development of high- yielding, and disease-resistant semi-dwarf wheat varieties, and his strong advocacy for the use of genetically modified (GM) crop varieties.

In 1970, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Dr. Norman Borlaug, with the Nobel Prize Committee concluding that, "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peaceā€¦. He has helped to create a new food situation in the world and who has turned pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food."

On being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for saving one billion people from hunger, Norman Borlaug wisely reminded the world that he had "just bought some time" and that continued investment in improved crop technology was a "must" for feeding the world of tomorrow. "Norm", as he liked to be known to his legion of friends around the world, was an ardent advocate of biotech/GM crops, which he viewed as one of the necessary technology tools for ensuring future food security. He opined that "Over the past decade, we have been witnessing the success of plant biotechnology. This technology is helping farmers throughout the world produce higher yield, while reducing pesticide use and soil erosion. The benefits and safety of biotechnology has been proven over the past decade in countries with more than half of the world's population. What we need is courage by the leaders of those countries where farmers still have no choice but to use older and less effective methods. The Green Revolution and now plant biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food production, while preserving our environment for future generations."

In 2000, Dr. Borlaug, accompanied by ISAAA's Founder and Chair, Dr. Clive James, and Randy Hautea, Global Coordinator, and Philippine Government officials, met with the Philippine's National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST)  to share his views and experiences on the critical challenge of food security and the vital role of science and technology in meeting the challenge. On this occasion he was conferred as an honorary member of  the NAST (see photo below) . During this visit to the Philippines, Norman Borlaug helped support ISAAA's new knowledge sharing initiatives through the establishment of the Global Knowledge Center (KC) on Crop Biotechnology. One of the products of ISAAA's Knowledge Center is the email newsletter Crop Biotech Update (CBU) which is now distributed weekly to 650,000 subscribers in 200 countries, and growing at approximately 5,000 per month. Norman Borlaug will always be fondly remembered as a very special member of the ISAAA family, because of his personal warmth and integrity, and his unique contribution to the improvement in the lives of millions of poor people worldwide.

Below is a special tribute from ISAAA, in free verse, by Dr. Clive James, (Founder and Chair of ISAAA and former Deputy Director General CIMMYT, Mexico) to Norm Borlaug, who was his mentor and personal friend for 30 years. The verse is an adaptation of a verse composed by Huexotzin, Prince of Texcoco, Mexico, circa 1484 at the passing of his grandfather, the famous Aztec King Nezahualcoyotl, who like his grandson Huexotzin, was a botanist and a poet. Given Norman Borlaug's great love for Mexico he would probably be very proud to be honored as the latter-day Prince of Texcoco and the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, where he toiled for more than 50 years. He would often say of the Yaqui Valley  "this is where I truly feel at home and where I am at peace".

Norman Borlaug, 1914 - 2009

"Bread of Heaven* - Feed us till we want no more"

You tell me I must perish
Like the millions I helped nourish
Something remaining of my name
Something remembered of my fame
But the wheats I bred in Mexico, are still young
And the Yaqui genes, will still express their humanitarian song

*"Bread of Heaven" is the famous British hymn sung at state occasions, such as Princess Diana's funeral, and captures the principal goal that Norm lived for 
- alleviation of hunger-

This article is available in Amharic, Bamanan, French, Hindi and Swahili

View other tributes at;; and Dr. Borlaug's Nobel Prize lecture is at