US agronomist, whose development of high-yielding cereal varieties for the third world earned him the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. He was admitted as a foreign member to the Royal Society in 1987.
Born of a Norwegian immigrant farming family in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug obtained a BSc in forestry from the University of Minnesota (1937) and a PhD for work on plant pathology (1941). After three years in commercial agrochemical research, he joined a small team of agronomists who founded what is now the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, near Mexico City. It was their aim to apply the new scientific developments in western agriculture to improve cereal yields in underdeveloped countries. Borlaug bred new varieties of wheat that could tolerate the application of artificial fertilizers to give much higher grain yields, often under semiarid conditions. These new varieties enabled a dramatic boost in yields during the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s. However, the dependence on expensive inputs of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and machinery has meant that such varieties are not universally appropriate.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.