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wanted to speed things up." Collecting wheat
varieties from around the world, he began a
massive cross-breeding program. Such work
is "mind-warpingly tedious," he tells Hesser.
"There's only one chance in thousands of ever
finding what you want, and actually no guar-
antee of success at all."
To improve those odds, Borlaug tried
something unusual: doing two successive
plantings of his experimental crosses each
year, e ectively doubling his rate of research.
He was almost stymied by what he calls "the
dogma of plant breeding everywhere at the
time: plant in the same season and place as
local farmers." But soon he was planting
in summer in low-quality, rain-fed soils at
high altitude near Mexico City, and then
taking any promising varieties hundreds
of miles north to sow a winter crop in the
warmer, drier, lower-lying Yaqui Valley. This
"shuttle breeding" helped Borlaug achieve
rust resistance in under five years. It also
produced exceptionally adaptable varieties,
suited for use across climates.
Having achieved rust resistance and
plant adaptability, Borlaug now addressed
the problem of structure. When Mexican
wheat was heavily fertilized, it grew too tall,
collapsing when irrigated or rained on---thus
limiting yields. After 20,000 fruitless crosses,
Borlaug heard about a Japanese dwarf variety
that might confer its strength and stockiness.
He started thousands more crosses, until
"by 1964, we got the really beautiful short
wheat varieties." The yields were spectacular,
and the variety was quickly adopted around
world. In 1968, his approach, which stimu-
lated advances in other staple foods, was
dubbed the "Green Revolution" by William
Gaud, administrator of the U.S. Agency for
International Development. Two years later,
Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Paradoxically, 1968 also saw the genesis
of an environmentalist dogma that was pes-
simistic about humanity's capacity to feed
itself. In that year---when the global popula-
tion growth rate peaked, at 2 percent per year---
Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb,
intoning, "The battle to feed all of humanity
is over. ... Hundreds of millions of people
will starve to death in spite of any crash pro-
grams." The madding crowd of "stinking hot"
Delhi was odious to Ehrlich: "My wife and
daughter and I ... entered a crowded slum
area. ... People, people, people, people. ... [We]
were, frankly, frightened." It was a "fantasy,"
he said, that India would ever feed itself. Yet
Borlaug's program delivered such stunning
results that India issued a 1968 stamp com-
memorating the "wheat revolution," and by
1974 it was self-su cient in all cereals.
Nonetheless, a neo-Malthusian fear of
overpopulation became endemic to environ-
mentalist thinking. Science philosopher and
Arts and Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton
says, "Well-fed Greens flaunt their concern
for the planet but are indi erent, even hostile,
to the world's poor with whom they share it.
Some Greens I knew acted for all the world
as though they relished the idea of a coming
worldwide famine, much as fundamentalists
ghoulishly looked forward to Armageddon."
Dutton, who served in the Peace Corps, per-
sonally saw the Green Revolution benefit
India. "For the catastrophist, India becom-
ing a food exporter was disturbing," he says.
"This wasn't supposed to happen. They blame
Borlaug for spoiling the fun."
Not all Borlaug's critics were catastroph-
ists: some opposed the intensity of his agricul-
ture, especially its use of inorganic fertilizer.
Borlaug acknowledges the need for care, but
he says the "natural" alternative, cow manure,
"would require us to increase the world's cattle
population from around 1.5 billion to some
10 billion." As he dryly observed in a 2003 TV
interview, "Producing food for 6.2 billion
people ... is not simple." He added, "[Organic
approaches]can only feed four billion---I don't
see two billion volunteers to disappear."
Raised on a farm, Borlaug thinks many
of his detractors would benefit from a week
or two in the fields. He cites Ghanaian
farmers who use no-till agriculture (that
is, plant waste is left to improve the humus
and reduce erosion) and control weeds with
herbicides. Their lives are improved by the
reduction in weeding. "Less backache, you
see," he once said. "You know, it's amazing
how often campaigners in rich countries
think poor people don't get backache."
A NEW SCOURGE
Many thought the work that earned Borlaug
his Nobel brought an end to stem rust, but
it is back, in the form of a variant called
Ug99, which emerged in Uganda and
spread to Kenya and Ethiopia. "If it con-
tinues unchecked," says Borlaug, "the con-
sequences will be ruinous."
Africa, in fact, presents an especially
worrying challenge, for the simple reason
that it did not benefit much from the Green
Revolution. Borlaug's Nobel largely honored
gains in Asia: there, calorie availability per
person rose, wheat and rice prices fell, and
increased incomes stimulated industrial out-
put. Similar benefits were enjoyed almost
everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa,
where more than 200 million people---a third
of the population---still go hungry. In the last
four decades, Africa's average per capita food
production has actually decreased.
Ug99 will be fought, at least initially, with
the plant-breeding techniques Borlaug so
artfully employed. However, he believes
Africa's best hopes rest with biotechnology,
even though regulatory problems prevent its
immediate use against Ug99. Also needed,
he believes, are publicity, political will, fund-
ing, and renewed coöperation among inter-
national agricultural researchers. The work
he is inspiring is nothing less than a new
African Green Revolution.
The reasons for failure in Africa are com-
plex. "Irrigation is first," explains Michael
Lipton of the University of Sussex's Poverty
Research Unit. "In sub-Saharan Africa, 4
percent of cropland is irrigated. In South
and East Asia it's nearer 40 percent."
Then there's soil. "Africa's soils ... [are]
equivalent---and were once adjacent---to the
Cerrado's acid soils," Borlaug says. The Cer-
rado, an area that extends across central Brazil,
historically had some of the least productive
soil in the world. But improved crop varieties
of the sort that Borlaug created---along with
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