Food For Thought
Norman Borlaug is not one to mince his words.
"Global defence spending amounts to $900 billion a year;
over one-third of this is accounted for by the US," said
the renowned agronomist, before adding, "You cannot build
peace on empty stomachs."
Dr Borlaug, whose discoveries sparked the green
revolution in India, Pakistan and elsewhere an achievement
for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 was
delivering the 22nd Coromandel lecture, organised by Murugappa
Group company Coromandel Fertilisers, to a packed audience
at the IARI Auditorium at New Delhi on March 16 2005.
Global food security was the theme of Dr Borlaug's
lecture, titled 'From the Green to the Gene Revolution: A
21st Century Challenge', and his passion for the subject shone
through. "There are 800 million hungry people on earth,
as many as 400 million in Asia alone," said Dr Borlaug,
who has been honoured with more than 40 doctorate degrees
and numerous awards by governments, academic institutions
and citizens' groups from around the world.
The facts of global farming are alarming: there
is limited potential for land expansion for cultivation; just
17 per cent of cultivable land produces 90 per cent of world's
food harvest; 85 per cent of future growth in food production
must come from lands already under production. "We will
have to double the world food supply by 2050," said Dr
Borlaug, before articulating the threats faced by various
crops from large-scale diseases that could affect millions
of hectares of land under cultivation.
The threat facing wheat crops is imminent, warned
Dr Borlaug. If this threat is not addressed on a high priority,
"we could end up eating rice bread". Dr. Borlaug
supported the use of chemical fertilisers since it helps in
improving crop yields and added that, while genetically modified
crops may not be the right solution at all times, the technology
ought to be applied selectively.
Dr Borlaug recommended a multidisciplinary research
focus to increase yields and production. In his opinion, the
trigger for the green revolution - shuttle breeding and multi-location
international testing that produced the broadly adapted Mexican
wheat continues to be relevant for our times. The 92-year-old
Dr Borlaug said his dream is to "transfer rice immunity
to cereals such as wheat, maize, sorghum and barley, and transfer
bread-wheat proteins (gliadin and glutenin) to other cereals,
especially rice and maize".
Preceding the lecture was an introduction by
MS Swaminathan, the agronomist whose own contribution to the
green revolution was immense. Besides Dr Swaminathan, who
lauded the Murugappa Group's commitment in organising the
lecture, the audience also comprised S Nagarajan, the director
of IARI, and Rattan Lal, professor of soil science at Ohio
University. Dr Nagarajan and Dr Lal received awards from Dr
Dr Bharat Ram, the former chairman of Coromandel
Fertilisers, and MM Rao, a former director of the company,
were praised for their efforts.