Borlaug Receives Congressional Gold Medal

In December 2006 native Iowan, Norman Borlaug, received the Congressional Gold Medal.


This week, in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, President Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Iowa native and agricultural scientist, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.

With his family present, the 93-year-old Borlaug was recognized for his lifelong work to fight world hunger through crop breeding. Sent to Mexico by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1940s, Dr. Borlaug worked years to develop a high yielding, disease-resistant variety of wheat that could be raised in hard-to-grow areas.

President George Bush: "The most fitting tribute we can offer this good man is renew his life's work and lead a second Green Revolution to feed the world and today we pledge to do so."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (D) California, House Speaker: "No one before or since has done so much to answer the call to liberate the world from hunger."

In the more than 230 year history of the Congressional Gold Medal -- first presented to General George Washington in 1776 -- Dr. Borlaug is the first recipient recognized for work in the field of agriculture. And chair of Senate Agriculture committee, Tom Harkin of Iowa says, it is a long time coming.

Senator Tom Harkin, (D) Iowa, Chairman, Senate Agriculture Committee: "No one really ever focused on the agricultural sciences and what agriculture science has done, not only for our own country but for the world. Its proper he gets this award."

With his individually designed medal by the U.S. Mint, imprinted with a quote of his: “The first essential component for social justice is adequate food for all mankind” -- Dr. Borlaug becomes just the fifth person to have received the the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 1977) … … and the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1970).

Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, 1970: "There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort."

To bring more attention to those words and to the issue of hunger, Dr. Borlaug asked the Nobel Foundation to create a category for food and agriculture. When he was refused, he sought financial sponsors and in 1986 created what he hoped would be an equally prestigious award -- The World Food Prize.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, 2003: "When it was established, it was the same value as the Nobel Prize at that time. $250,000."

Ken Quinn, President, World Food Prize: "I'm going to be committed to this because people should know who he is. And his legacy should be there for the next 100 years to inspire Iowans, to inspire Americans, to inspire people all around the world."

The annual World Food Prize ceremony is held at the capitol in Dr. Borlaug's home state of Iowa -- and the prize money comes from fellow Iowan and philanthropist John Ruan.

The first recipient of the World Food Prize went to Dr. M.S. Swaminathan for spearheading the introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties to India’s farmers. He used his prize money to establish a research center in Chennai, India.

Dr. Swaminathan was on hand at this week's Congressional Medal ceremony in Washington.

M.S. Swaminathan, 1987 World Food Prize Laureate: "I feel fortunate to be here on a day when one of the greatest Americans and humanists of all times is being honored."

The accolades for Dr. Borlaug are many … from speeches …

2005 National Science Award ceremony: "Norman Borlaug for National Medal of Science award"

…to medals and awards …

Ann Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture 2001-2005, 2004 announcment: "The Borlaug Fellows will include..key event: 2004

… To having programs named after him…

President Jimmy Carter: "I've had long talks with Dr. Borlaug."

… to working with former president and 2002 Nobel Prize Laureatee, Jimmy Carter on a crop program in Africa.

President Jimmy Carter, President 1977-1981, 1994 interview: "I think his greatest single and most unique contribution is his natural ability to transcend the barrier that there is a record between research scientist on the one hand, the farmers in the field on the other."

But the acclaimed scholar has not been without his critics. Over the years, Borlaug has been criticized by environmentalists who say the crops he developed demand high levels of chemical fertilizer and other inputs that could damage the environment. In more recent years, he has been criticized for his support of continued research and use of genetically modified crops. He has repeatedly defended his positions, arguing for the need to feed the world.

Norman Borlaug, 1994: "The environment of poverty and misery is something that needs to be destroyed from my point of view."

Norman Borlaug, 2007: "GMO's are important."

Norman Borlaug, 2003: But whether we will be able to use this or not because of all of these fear of change. You know, when people become very elite, they think differently. They've never known hunger. They've never lived close to it. Seeing children dying, starving. They talk about ecology."

Borlaug, says his first job was in ecology as a forester. And he says he is not dissuaded by his nay-sayers. He says he has developed a thick skin and persevered with his research.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, 1994: "She was too young then to understand the complications. She'd say, 'but daddy they criticize you.' I said, 'forget about it. That's the way it is. If you score a couple touchdowns everyone is after you. If you never score they ignore you'."

What he told his daughter is what he no doubt tells the younger generation of researchers he says will be needed to produce food for the growing populations in the world.

To help foster the next generation of scientists, he, through the World Food Prize, established a Youth Institute for high school students. The institute offers educational workshops and offers overseas fellowships to see first hand the type of work that is needed.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, 2006 date, founder, World Food Prize: "Exposing them in their presentations some aspect of hunger, malnutrition, how it affects not only health and survival but also the role of politics in food."

President George Bush at President George Bush,Congressional Medal ceremony: "Dr. Borlaug is still active. I listened to a friend of his say Dr. Borlaug spends half theyear in Texas, half in Mexico and the other half wherever he's needed."

Norman Borlaug at Congressional Medal ceremony: "Thank you for your years of support, especially in the 60s ... when everyone said it couldn't be done. Look at it now. Thank you."

For Market to Market, I'm Nancy Crowfoot.

©Iowa PBS 2006


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