Norman Borlaug QUOTES [Volume 14 No. 4 (2014)]

1. Norman Borlaug quotes from the CIMMYT Website

2. Norman Borlaug quotes provided by the late Chris Dowswell


Norman Borlaug Quotes (from the CIMMYT Website)

“I grew up on the land, on a small farm in NE Iowa. Life was not always easy. I experienced the economic depressions of the 1930s, and from the experience, I felt that families on the land needed help from scientists, and I dedicated my life to science, and especially to food production.”

“It was during the depths of the depression. Many unemployed hungry people, asking for a hand out, for a nickel. I’d never seen this in the rural communities where I grew up. This was a horrifying experience for me. That was part of me. I saw it!”
“I personally cannot live comfortably in the midst of abject hunger and poverty and human misery, if I have the possibilities of--even in a modest way, with the help of my many scientific colleges--of doing something about improving the lives of these many young children.”

“There was this huge harvest, mountains of grain by the railroad sidings waiting to be shipped, unthreshed grain on the threshing floors, and finally it was so bad, they had to close the schools and store the grain. And you could feel this enthusiasm—you would stop at farmer’s field days and at experiment stations, at the agriculture universities, you could feel it everywhere.”

“In a policy makers office, you say brutally, frankly, look, things are seething down there, if you want government stability, the games you played by in the past won’t serve. You’re going to have trouble. You say that thing at the wrong time you’ll be invited to leave the country.”

“I like to play the game hard. To me the most important game of all is the game of life, to try to elevate the standard of living of whom you’re trying to help. I think it requires ones best effort.”
“Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”

“…the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.”

“Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply.”

“For, behind the scenes, halfway around the world in Mexico, were two decades of aggressive research on wheat that not only enabled Mexico to become self-sufficient with respect to wheat production but also paved the way to rapid increase in its production in other countries.”

“I am but one member of a vast team made up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists, and millions of farmers - mostly small and humble - who for many years have been fighting a quiet, oftentimes losing war on the food production front.”

“Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past.”

“The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent standard of living for all mankind.”

“The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than fifty percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger as a constant companion and fear of famine a continual menace.”

“There are no miracles in agricultural production.”

“Therefore I feel that the aforementioned guiding principle must be modified to read: If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”


Norman Borlaug quotes by the late Chris Dowswell

  1. “World peace cannot and will not be built on empty stomachs and human misery.” A statement by John Boyd Orr and amended by Norman Borlaug, Wartburg College presentation, October, 2003.
  2. “Set the grassroots ablaze and hold the feet of the political and bureaucratic leadership to the fire.” Norman Borlaug explaining the key to the success of the Green Revolution. World Food Prize, 2006
  3. “You can’t eat potential!” Dr. Norman Borlaug referring to the ag. potential of Sub-Saharan Africa.
  4. “Borlaug has made a greater contribution toward the end of hunger in the world than any other living man.” Des Moines Register, 1999
  5. “Education is progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” Norman E. Borlaug
  6. “Stretch yourself and reach for the stars. You’ll never reach one, but if you stretch yourself hard enough, you’ll get stardust on your hands. You’ll be surprised what you can do to help yourself and the people of your lifetime.” Dr. Borlaug at Wavarly/ Shell Rock HS, October, 2003.
  7. “Few young scientists in the field understand farming and they become too highly specialized. Who is going to be the person who puts all the pieces together? Who has the broad agricultural background?” Dr Borlaug at the Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation, February, 2006.
  8. “The tragedy of genetically-modified crops is not their possible risks but the squandered opportunities to benefit agriculture in developing countries.” Dr Borlaug, Wartburg College, 2003.
  9. “Helping African agriculture to prosper is not merely a humanitarian issue – it is a matter of enlightened self interest. Smallholder African farmers, after all are stewards of one of the earth’s major land masses. Kenyan paleonthologist Richard Leakey once said, ‘You have to have at least one square meal a day to be a conservationist.’ Aiding African farmers will not only save lives. It will also, in a uniquely literal sense, help save the earth.” Dr Borlaug, Wartburg College, 2003.
  10. “Borlaug’s unique combination of technical innovation, idealism, energy, and impatience with bureaucratic inefficiency took entire countries from starvation to self-sufficiency in the space of a few years.” Biographical Essay – World of Genetics
  11. “Norman Borlaug is a world-class scientist with a social conscience…the ultimate compliment.”
  12. “Teachers encourage their students to look to the future. Occasionally, they should encourage their students to reflect on the contributions of those of the present and those of the past.”
  13. “It is estimated that we have a billion mal-nourished/ starving in the world today. Remember that hunger is not a statistic, it is a human being. It has a name and a face and parents and family and hopes and dreams and potential just like the rest of us.” Daphrose Gahakwa, Minister of Education, Rwanda, at the World Food Prize Symposium (2008).
  14. “A million deaths is a statistic; a single death is a tragedy.” Joseph Stalin
    “Consider that current agricultural productivity took 10,000 years to attain the production of roughly six billion gross tons of food per year. Today, nearly seven billion people consume that stockpile almost in its entirety every year. Factor in growing prosperity and nearly 3 billion new mouths to feed by 2050, and you quickly see how the crudest calculations suggest that within the next four decades the world's farmers will have to double production. … At this time of critical need, the epicenter of our collective work should focus on driving continued investments from both the public and private sectors in efficient agriculture production technologies. … The civilization that our children, grandchildren and future generations come to know will not evolve without accelerating the pace of investment and innovation in agriculture production.”
    --Norman Borlaug, winner of 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, writing in the July 31, 2009 Wall Street Journal
  16. “ I cannot live comfortably in the midst of abject poverty, hunger and human misery, if I have the possibility of doing something about improving the lot of young children.” Dr Norman Borlaug
  17. Emma Flemmig, president of the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences and a senior in agronomy and biology, had this comment: "Dr. Borlaug's comments inspired me to change the way that I think about equality. 'It's not just about production, Emma. It's about distribution! We've got grain rotting in bins in India while the people starve on the street,' he said to me once over a meal at CIMMYT in Mexico. He also said, 'The first time I ever saw hunger was when I went to college during the Depression. In rural Iowa, we were all poor on the farm, but at least we always had food. Hungry looks different than poor.' Looking back, these were the comments that inspired me to address inequality and to make sure that agricultural solutions were more than science--that they were innovations for humanity, not for profit. If not for him, I would not have realized that hunger exists everywhere and that it is caused by inequality in power - power that comes from education, economic and social capital. Lack of access to nutritious food happens in the poorest places and in the richest. All wealth usually does is mask the powerless who were pushed down to generate and concentrate it in the hands of few. If it were not for Dr. Borlaug, I would still be living in one of the wealthiest places in the world, unaware that there were problems with this, and I would not be committed to taking my good fortune and channeling it towards building a global agricultural and food system that spreads equality and access, rather than marginalization and poverty."
  18. John Pesek, emeritus professor of agronomy, shared the following thoughts upon the death of Norman Borlaug: “Dr. Borlaug did not rest on his laurels, but kept on working, mostly transferring his efforts to promoting the use of selections of improved amino acid balance corn, called Quality Protein Maize, developed by CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) in Mexico for nourishment of infants and very young children specifically in Africa, but applicable elsewhere ... All Dr. Borlaug actually claimed from the beginning, immediately after winning the Nobel Prize, was that, he had gained a generation of time for the human species to get control of 'the population monster.' Even then he recognized the problem as being uncontrolled population growth and that his technological fix was good for only 20 to 25 years, given what we knew at the time. That phrase, 'population monster,' exemplifies his understanding of his world, and is as true today as it was then.”