Public Release: 

AAAS awards the Philip Abelson Prize to 'Green Revolution' champion Norman Borlaug

American Association for the Advancement of Science

BOSTON, MASS. - What began as a "quiet" wheat revolution in Mexico took on global proportions in the 1960s, when the "Green Revolution" averted millions of people from the threat of famine. Norman Borlaug, often credited with establishing this potent increase in crop production in developing countries over a short period of time, receives the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Philip Hauge Abelson Prize. Borlaug was honored for lifetime achievements in scientific research and contributions to the scientific community.

Borlaug, an agricultural scientist who worked for organizations such as the Civilian Conservation Corps off and on to put himself through Master's and doctoral programs at the University of Minnesota, branched out from rural America to Mexico, to work on wheat. Some 58 years later, now at age 88 and still yet to retire, Borlaug continues to apply his vision to eradicate hunger and correct malnutrition around the world, particularly in Africa, and encourages ecologically responsible techniques of land management that give better crop yields.

In 1944, Borlaug joined the International Maize and Wheat Center, a joint program with the Mexican Ministry for Agriculture and the Rockefeller Foundation, and spent 16 years researching wheat, guided by the Rockefeller philosophy to "help Mexico help itself."

The center was and still is a place where plants, as well as Mexican scientists, are cultivated: Scientists take part in training internships and fellowships, gradually filling a void from the scarcity of local expertise. Borlaug and colleagues in Mexico studied the factors limiting wheat, genetics and plant breeding, agronomy, soil fertility, plant pathology, entomology, and most recently, biochemistry. Eventually, they developed a high-yield, low-pesticide dwarf strain of wheat and, coupled with the use of fertilizers, were able to increase the size of annual wheat crops in Mexico.

It was, at the very least, an example of the success of international research centers, as the network provided opportunities to solve problems and deliver the benefits of science to society: Mexico had self-sufficient wheat production. In the 1970s, the yield increased from 750 kilograms per hectare to almost 3000 kilograms per hectare in 2000.

In the 1960s, Borlaug expanded his program to conflict-ridden India and Pakistan, and began sowing the dwarf wheat, which increased production of wheat in Pakistan from 3.5 million tons in 1965 to 14 million in the early ´90s. In the same period of time, India saw an increase from 11 million to 15 million tons of wheat. This is what was known to have "established" the Green Revolution, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

"Progress is continuous, and we can and must make continuous progress," Borlaug said in his speech on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. On the Indian subcontinent, Borlaug strove to establish a "crop-production campaign strategy," adapted from Mexico, that gave local farmers assurance of a fair price for grain, availability of the tools and supplies, and credit to buy them, by coupling the high grain-yield potential of the new seed and technology to sound governmental economic policy.

"The Green Revolution in India and Pakistan, which is still largely the result of a breakthrough in wheat production, is neither a stroke of luck or an accident of nature. Its success is based on sound research, the importance of which is not self-evident at first glance," Borlaug said in his speech.

In 1986, Borlaug became involved in food crop production and technology transfer projects in sub-Saharan Africa. The resulting joint program, called Sasakawa-Global 2000, named in part for the Sasakawa Foundation and its chairman, Ryoichi Sasakawa, now operates in 11 sub-Saharan countries, helping small-scale farmers use improved technology for basic food crops that yield two to three times more than conventional techniques.

Borlaug works on improving traditional agriculture techniques as well, to optimize crop production with lower production cost. In what some call a new agricultural revolution, transformation to "low-till" farming, which leaves more mulch on the ground, as opposed to thorough and repeated plowing, can reduce the turnaround time on land that bears two or three annual crops. The more ecologically sound methods that Borlaug encourages help to reduce soil erosion, increase moisture conservation, and build up organic matter in the soil.

In Borlaug's speech on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize, he said, "Despite the successes of the 'Green Revolution', the battle to ensure food security for millions of miserably poor people is far from over."

Norman Borlaug is one of three living U.S. Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and has received over 46 honorary doctoral degrees from the United States and the international community.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. Founded in 1848, AAAS serves 134,000 members as well as 273 affiliates, representing 10 million scientists.

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