In Mexico, Dr. Borlaug's scientific knowledge found expression in a humanitarian mission: developing improved grain varieties to feed the hungry people of the world. A practical, energetic, hands-on researcher, Dr. Borlaug worked in the fields alongside farm workers, students, and interns, sharing his knowledge as well as the labor of producing food crops. During his 20 years in Mexico, Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues perfected a dwarf wheat variety that could produce large amounts of grain, resist diseases, and resist lodging — the bending and breaking of the stalk that often occurs in high-yielding grains. Under Dr. Borlaug's guidance, this new wheat was planted with great success, not only in Mexico, but also in India and Pakistan. In subsequent years, the wheat was planted in nations in Central and South America, the Near and Middle East, and Africa. Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues also developed an innovative “shuttle breeding” system, where two crops of wheat were grown per year in different agro-ecological zones in Mexico.
During the 1960s, Dr. Borlaug worked closely with scientists in Pakistan and India to improve wheat productivity and food security in South Asia.
In 1964, Dr. Borlaug was appointed director of the Wheat Research and Production Program at the then newly established International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) near Mexico City. This position allowed him to expand his teaching mission. He shared his immense knowledge of research and production methods with thousands of young scientists from all over the world, "seeding" agricultural production in their home countries with new ideas and new productivity.
For his work in South Asia, and for his earlier work in Mexico, Dr. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Over the years, he received multitudinous honors and recognitions from universities, governments, and organizations worldwide, but through it all remained a deeply humble and practical man who was as productive after winning this major honor as he was before.
Dr. Borlaug came to Texas A&M University in 1984 as Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture where he continued to teach and inspire young scientists at Texas A&M and at CIMMYT.
Hailed as having saved more lives than anyone else in the history of mankind, Dr. Borlaug cited as one of his most prized tributes the naming of a street in his honor in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico — the site of some of his earliest research projects.
Dr. Borlaug was instrumental in the founding of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative in 2005. It replaced the Global Rust Initiative (GRI), which was an outcome of the May 2005 Expert Panel report of the outbreak of stem rust, race Ug99, in Kena and Ethiopia. The BGRI addresses the potential for rust to disastrously impact wheat production throughout the world.
Dr. Borlaug died of lymphoma at the age of 95, on September 12, 2009, in his Dallas home.
Some of the text above was adapted from the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agricultural Research at Texas A&M.