Perspectives Online

Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug delivers key lecture during installation week


N.C. State Chancellor Jim Oblinger and his wife, Diana, share moments with Dr. Norman Borlaug (center).
Photo by Becky Kirkland

One of the world's most distinguished agricultural scientists, Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, challenged the N.C. State University community, and especially its students, to "reach and stretch for the stars" in bringing the latest research to bear on agricultural problems around the globe.

Dr. Borlaug's lecture, "Bridging the Divide Between Environment, Agriculture and Forestry," was a fitting lead-in to a week's worth of activities celebrating Dr. James L. Oblinger's April 20 installation as N.C. State University's new chancellor. In his installation speech later in the week, Oblinger, a food scientist and former dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, focused on the need for N.C. State to deliver problem-solving innovation addressing "the world's challenges."

Foreshadowing Oblinger's comments, Borlaug said that research is needed to help the world double its food supply in the next 50 years to meet demands of a growing population faced with an increasingly limited amount of land available for agricultural production.

"Where will our food come from in the next 50 years? We think 85 percent of it will come from the land that is now under cultivation by the further application of intensive management technology, not just a hybrid," he said.

The world's farmers need better infrastructure, better irrigation and tillage methods and crops improved through biotechnology. But scientific advancement must be matched by public policy changes that allow farmers to access new technologies.

"Now, high-yielding varieties, that doesn't mean much if you don't create the culture of conditions so that it can express its true yield potential," he said. "You can't eat potential. You've got to change it to production, and that means applying all of these different disciplines in a packaged approach."

Borlaug, 91, spoke from experience gained over a career spanning the globe for the past seven decades. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work aimed at feeding the world's hungry.

In the 1940s, Borlaug went to Mexico to serve as scientist in charge of the Rockefeller Foundation's wheat improvement program. There, he developed so-called shuttle breeding to speed up the development of high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties. Through shuttle breeding, scientists use different locations with differing environmental conditions, back-to-back, to breed new varieties. The process produces lines that adapt to different environments, and it speeds up development time because it allows scientists to grow two generations a year.

Borlaug's research helped transform agricultural production, triggering what is now called the Green Revolution. As a result, Borlaug has been credited with saving more lives than any person who has ever lived.

Borlaug's two-day visit at N.C. State was sponsored by the College of Natural Resources and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. An overflow crowd attended his lecture, held April 18 in the McKimmon Center.

Speaking to the students in the audience, he said, "Whatever discipline you are going into, are you satisfied with mediocrity? I hope not. The world needs leaders - leaders.

"So reach and stretch for that star. You'll never reach the star, but if you stretch your potential capacity enough, with the help of your professors and your associates, you'll get some stardust on your hands.

"And with that as a catalyst, you'll be surprised what you'll be able to do for you, your family, the community, the state, the nation, and, yes, the people of the world."

- Dee Shore