The Greatest Human Being You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

In 1944, the Rockefeller Foundation began work with the Mexican government to improve agricultural development. Norman Borlaug, a Norwegian farmer and wrestler from Wisconsin with a degree in plant pathology, accepted the leadship role of the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program in Mexico. Through innovation and experimentation he described as “mind-warpingly tedious,” he developed wheat hybrids that not only resisted devastating, famine-causing diseases, but that also increased crop yield.

Norman Borlaug’s work started what has been called the Green Revolution, improving food production in Mexico, India, Pakistan and other developing countries. His work is credited with saving the lives of more than a billion people who would have otherwise starved to death.

In 1970, Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance lecture, he said, “When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient of the 1970 award for my contribution to the ‘green revolution’, they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry, both for bread and for peace”.

Norman Borlaug was married to Margaret Gibson for 69 years. He died in September, 2009, one of only six people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.


I ran across a description of Norman Borlaug’s work in a Wired magazine article about a new wheat fungus called UG99, that threatens global wheat crops.

I obtained other information about Norman from his Wikipedia entry, which almost reads like a novel. Here’s a sample quotation: “Borlaug said that his first couple of years in Mexico were difficult. He lacked trained scientists and equipment. Native farmers were hostile toward the wheat program because of serious crop losses from 1939 to 1941 due to stem rust. ‘It often appeared to me that I had made a dreadful mistake in accepting the position in Mexico,’ he wrote in the epilogue to his book, Norman Borlaug on World Hunger.”

The moniker “The Greatest Human Being You’ve Probably Never Heard Of” comes from an episode of a Penn and Teller television series which featured Norman Borlaug.

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