Despite his 95 years, Dr. Norman Borlaug still keeps an audience spellbound, hanging on every word, amazed at the wisdom and humility of a man who has devoted his life to feeding hungry people around the world.
Those attending his recent birthday celebration in Dallas seemed awed, inspired and moved by the brief comments Dr. Borlaug made in response to an announcement by Monsanto that a new scholarship program will honor him and revered rice breeder Dr. Henry Beachell.
Monsanto is investing $10 million in the Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which will identify and support young scientists interested in improving research and production in rice and wheat. The program, established for five years, will be administered by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Dr. Borlaug said agricultural scientists must emphasize “the importance of integrating animal science in the broadest context and integrating plant science in the broadest context to meet the (world’s) food requirements over the next 25 years. It will demand more integration across disciplines than ever before.
“We strive to improve the standard of living for the people of the world. That’s why the World Food Prize was established. We have the science and technology to solve the world’s food problems and I am pleased to receive this support from Monsanto to teach young people to solve these problems.”
He said agriculture must broaden its approach. “Monsanto, in recent years, has brought to the world’s attention the need to produce food for a large population and (population) grows by 84 million every year. It’s not a simple undertaking.”
The International Scholars Program is designed to meet that growing demand, said Ted Crosbie, vice president, Global Plant Breeding, Monsanto Co. “As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Borlaug, Monsanto is pleased to mark the accomplishments of two great men in agriculture by establishing this Scholars Program,” Crosbie said. “Drs. Beachell and Borlaug devoted their lives to ensuring farmers have access to the best rice and wheat varieties and to the advancement of science through education. This award seeks to continue their work to enable future generations of farmers to feed our growing population.”
“Young scientists who receive this scholarship will have the opportunity to come to us to further their training and work with world renowned rice experts on projects that make a real difference to people’s lives,” said Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “Public sector support for graduate education in agricultural science education in developing countries has plummeted over the last couple of decades. Support for private scholarships like this will help build the next generation of rice scientists to ensure we can solve the problems that face rice production now and in the future.”
Dr. Thomas A. Lumpkin, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), concurs. “This is a welcome investment by the private sector, in an era of increasing food insecurity and decreasing numbers of graduate students in plant breeding,” he said. “We hope others will follow suit with additional funding and look forward to hosting scholars funded by the program at our center.”
“We’re looking for students interested in working on significant restraints to wheat and rice production,” Crosbie said.
One overall goal of the scholars program is to attract students interested in working in developing countries. Crosbie said Monsanto hopes the international scholars will work in both the United States and developing countries. “It’s remarkable that we are going to invest $10 million in people we will not hire,” he said. “We hope people selected will dedicate their careers to wheat and rice research in the public arena and not for commercial companies.”
He said he hopes to see students who strive to reach as high as Dr. Beachell and Dr. Borlaug.
Their impact can be significant. Dr. Borlaug’s work in the 1960s and 1970s is credited with saving more than 1 billion lives. Beachell’s work may have saved more than a million.
Crosbie quoted Borlaug as saying once: “Hunger and poverty do more than plant the seeds of despair. They also plant the seeds of anarchy and terrorism.”
“Hunger and misery have been part of human existence for thousands of years,” Dr. Borlaug said. “There are references in both the Bible and the Koran. But all in this room today and thousands of others are dedicated to producing more food and doing it without destroying the environment.
He said predictions of disaster and food shortages from the past never materialized. “We have survived.” He attributed some success to the “generosity of affluent nations to put more and more support behind international programs.”
He said a commitment to improve all basic food crops and animal products will be necessary. “We have to fight, fight, fight,” he said. “You don’t win by being afraid of change and change we must have. We are going in the right direction.”
Crosbie said the first class of scholars will be announced in conjunction with the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 15, 2009. Students interested in applying to the program can find more information at www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars.
Applications will be accepted until May 31.
Dr. Ed Runge, professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (emeritus) will chair the independent panel of international judges who will select the scholars.
“We are honored to administer this program and work with students around the world to bring new ideas and research techniques to rice and wheat breeding,” Runge said. “Research in these two staple crops has fallen behind others, and it is my hope this program will help jump-start additional investment in two of the world’s most important grains.”
Yields of rice and wheat have grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 0.8 percent over the past decade while the population has grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 1.25 percent. Higher yields will improve the fight against hunger by producing more food on the same number of acres.
Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1970. He also was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2006. He also received the Medal of Freedom and is one of only five people to receive all three of these awards. Others are: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel.
Dr. Beachell received the World food Prize in 1996, along with Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush.
The result of Dr. Borlaug and Dr. Beachell’s work is considered “The Green Revolution.”