Norman Borlaug: The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives

In every field, there are paragons that define it – the types of individuals whose impacts are awe-inspiring, towering in the sense in which their magnitude is asserted. Like any field, sustainability has no shortage of these remarkable individuals.  Norman Borlaug is one of them. As a matter of fact, he’s more than just a paragon in the field of agriculture and the Green Revolution. He is, without a doubt, one of the most influential individuals to exist in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Graph showing Wheat Yield Increase. Image via

Who Was Norman Borlaug?

Norman Borlaug was born in Cresco, Iowa. This Ph.D. graduate in Plant Pathology and Genetics wound up changing the world deeply and widely. Called “The Father of the Green Revolution,” he might as well be considered an apotheosis of what humanity can accomplish. What he was able to do within the fields in which he broke ground was truly stunning – it has essentially made him an incredible humanitarian. What’s so remarkable about Norman Borlaug? Consider these amazing feats:
  • He has pioneered and contributed to many innovations, the most famous being his work in agriculture. Norman was able to create a solution for wheat production problems, drastically improving the crop’s longevity. He also spurred the “dwarf-wheat” and “shuttle breeding” techniques, through which he was able to increase the yield of wheat.
  • The increase in food supply was staggering. In 1950, the total grain output of the world was 690 tons, with the production of the grains taking place on 1.7 billion acres of cropland. In 1992, the total grain output was 1.9 billion tons on roughly the same amount of land. The maximum yield was up to 6,000 lb. per acre as well.
  • Further into his career, Norman helped bring the practice of gene-splicing to agriculture. Gene-splicing has a bad reputation among related fields, but Norman was determined to apply the concept in innovative and beneficial ways. His work in this portion gave way to methods that undoubtedly have the potential to yield even more food.
  • Perhaps most remarkable of all is one of his most awe-inspiring statistics of the lives he was able to save. Through his work, he has saved a billion lives. This is truly one of the most amazing accomplishments anyone can boast. Deservedly, Norman was a recipient for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

There is so much more this man was able to boast: compassion, intelligence, mirth, morality, wisdom, and determination.  To take one stroll down his hall of fame is to see awards, honors, and prestige that few men can claim.

Norman’s Influence on Me As a Planner


Norman Borlaug. Image via

As someone who believes planning and science are prime examples of forward-thinking fields, I aim to gain inspiration from notable figures in those fields. Norman is, in fact, my biggest inspiration coming from any field. What he’s done, and the meaning that I derive from his example, cannot be stressed enough. It’s absolutely remarkable that innovation, strength, intelligence, and the will to work is able to produce such an impact. His impact has shown me that I, while I may not be able to scale his heights, can make a difference through the same values. What can be done to improve food security, save lives, and improve agriculture, Norman has exemplified through the supreme value of positive sustainable impact. The Green Revolution has brought on new challenges (Norman’s methods themselves have caused new challenges in regards to their sustainability), and has provided the world with opportunities for new fronts of qualified life. Thanks to Norman, all of this is possible.

Related to my own writing, Norman was also a teacher, the kind of teacher I hope to be as well (even if not on an institutional level). He was a humanitarian teacher who aimed to provide his knowledge to as many individuals as possible. Through his teaching, he aimed to spread his never-ending quest to end starvation, and promote a greener evolution of society. I hope to see that everyone in their fields, myself included, is able to take inspiration and spread the benefits of education.By sharing each other’s knowledge, there is a never-ending way to improve the world together.

Norman Borlaug statue at the US Capital. Image via

As someone who has had periods of self-doubt regarding my own value and contributions to the world, there is indeed a need for inspiration; a person that aims to prove that my field matters greatly. Whenever I need such an inspiration, Norman serves as the embodiment. Even beyond mere a push out from a middling state, he also serves as inspiration for when the stakes are high. Even though I have tried to convey the greatness of this man, I still feel that mere words cannot suffice. He is simply one of the greatest men who ever lived.  Rest in Peace, Norman. Your contributions to humanity will never be forgotten.Copyediting by Daniel Cordero

About The Author

Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.