A Nobel Peace Prize for Food. Norman burlaug


Do you know what Barack Obama, Marting Luther King and Norman Burlaug have in common? You may know the first two, but I'm almost certain that the third's name doesn't even sound familiar to you. It is also very likely that your life, or the lives of many millions of other people, would not be the same without the contributions that N. Burlaug made in the field of crop research. Burlaug was the father of the "green revolution" that has made life and development possible in countries like China, Brazil, Mexico and India.

Now it seems very normal that there are millions of people around the world eating. Although malnutrition and hunger remain a serious problem in some regions of the world, it is also true that we can say that never before in human history have so many people ate so much. Indeed, many emerging or emerging powers, as some call them, may owe a large part of their success to the efforts and research of one person. Norman Burlaug.


Norman Burlaug was an agricultural engineer who spent most of his life researching how to increase and improve production in many countries, and his contributions led to the development and lives of millions of people. In fact, your own life today may have been different without Burlaug's input.

Born in the United States of Norwegian descent, Burlaug studied science and worked in various agencies of the American administration, until he specialized in agronomy, with a focus on pest control, fertilizers and pesticides. From there, it went on to what would be the research center in which it would revolutionize agricultural research, the International Center for Corn and Wheat Improvement, or CIMMYT of Mexico.

Burlaug's investigations

Mexico had always had food supply problems and Burlaug, through his work at CIMMYT, contributed to their resolution. He realized that, in a wheat field, each plant was competing with the others for more light. This led him to study varieties that had shorter stems. In this way, the plant could dedicate more resources to producing more grain and less stem. The work was not easy, but back in 1973 he managed to use his new "shortened" wheat variety in Mexico to be able to produce 6 times more wheat than in 1944. The following year, and for the first time in its history, Mexico was self-sufficient in the production of wheat, becoming an exporting country since then.

Increases in wheat production in various countries

Burlaug in Asia

The success of Burlaug's crops in Mexico led him to Asia, where countries such as China or India had suffered from endemic famine for years. Millions of people were starving because not enough food could be produced for everyone. In fact, there were those who claimed that the world was headed for a "population bomb" precisely because it would not be able to produce enough food.

After overcoming various political and cultural difficulties, Burlaug's wheat varieties achieved spectacular results in India and Pakistan, making these two countries self-sufficient in 1968. In the same way, their contribution to Chinese agriculture made it possible for the Asian giant was capable of feeding more than 1 billion people today.

Surely, nobody has impacted as much on the development of these countries as Norman Burlaug.

The challenges of the green revolution

Burlaug based much of his success on getting new varieties of plants through crosses and on the help of agrochemicals in the form of fertilizers, NPK, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which helped the growth and productivity of crops. This also had environmental consequences in the form of water and aquifer contamination that we have not yet been able to resolve. Furthermore, the mass production of these agrochemicals has a very strong base in the oil industry.

The great challenge of the green revolution is therefore twofold. On the one hand, continue to offer the same productivity with a lower environmental impact, adjusting to the maximum the use of essential agrochemicals. And on the other, ensure that these agrochemicals are reused or produced with the lowest possible carbon footprint. The challenge is not easy.


Burlaug passed away from lymphoma in 2009 at the age of 95 in Dallas, USA. It is more than likely that the bread you eat today comes directly from one of the varieties that he discovered. What is certain is that today we would not be more than 6 billion people in the world if we had nothing to take directly to the palate. And in that, the "unknown" Norman Burlaug has a lot to say.

Images via | Wikipedia Direct to the Palate | Overweight and obesity vs hunger and malnutrition, what can more? Directly to the Palate | When financial speculation starves you. Literally.

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