Ebbing Tides: The Battle Against Hunger 50 Years after the Green Revolution

By Julie Borlaug

Agriculture at its best has always been a marriage and collaboration of science and the farmers who grow our food. When the two come together, magic happens.

That was perfectly demonstrated 50 years ago when my grandfather Dr. Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution,” was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work developing new strains of wheat able to be produced in great quantities. My grandfather helped to avert massive famine in India and Pakistan not only by developing new wheat varieties and teaching new techniques for growing wheat, but also by working with the government to create fair policies and strong partnerships.

His work was also humanitarian in nature, as he knew “you cannot build peace on empty stomachs and human misery,” and may well have prevented political and civil unrest, chaos, and possibly war. It marked a turning point for agriculture, shining a spotlight on the importance of continuing innovation in food science, and collaborations with other sectors to ensure change. My grandfather knew that agricultural sciences alone could not win the battle.

In accepting his prize in 1970, he warned against becoming too comfortable with current achievements: “It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better…but tides have a way of flowing and then ebbing again…(and) ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts.”

Nothing could ring truer in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global crops continue to face challenges due to climate change, population growth, environmental, economic and political issues. It’s why the power of gene editing and other new plant breeding techniques, and funding for these sciences, is essential to overcome these future challenges.

The awarding of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme (WFP) was such a personal honor to so many of the hunger fighters, as my grandfather called them, who continue his work today. Honoring the WFP on the 50th anniversary of my grandfather’s Nobel Peace Prize reinforces the importance of the power of agriculture, collaboration, and peace! The WFP is a perfect example of how different dedicated individuals, teams, governments, partnerships, cultures and sciences can come together to create holistic systems to end hunger and further promote peace.

Agriculture today is about so much more than just higher yields. Innovation is being pursued to enhance the entire farming ecosystem, with new techniques impacting more than just our food: social, scientific, economic, environmental, educational and political elements are all interconnected. Reflecting another trend in all of these areas, women today are also playing an increasingly more important role in agriculture, both in the field and in the research laboratory. This is vital to ensure food security both today and into the future. Drs’. Jennifer Doundna and Emmanuelle Charpentier Nobel Prize in Chemistry highlights how women are leading in developing innovative science techniques like CRISPR that can benefit humankind, not just in medicine, but in agriculture and beyond.

Farmers must have a voice and say in regulation, not just lobbyists and politicians, so that they too can benefit from new techniques, adapt them to the land, and make the most appropriate and safest choices for the environment and the people.

Scientists, the public sector, NGOs and the private sector know now they must go beyond the Green Revolution and create collaborative holistic systems that embrace innovation and technology, while keeping the interests of families and the Earth in place. When these partnerships are enhanced and supported, new methods of growing food, improving biodiversity and feeding the hungry will appear. When agricultural systems are strengthened and holistic and culturally-=accepted solutions are found, local/rural economies and livelihoods improve; education flourishes; access to more nutritious meals, healthcare and basic infrastructures increases; and gender rights become more equal. We can make that magic happen now and forever.

Julie Borlaug is V.P. for Communications & Public Relations at Inari Agriculture Inc. She works to continue the legacy of her grandfather, Dr. Norman Borlaug through developing agricultural partnerships between public, private and philanthropic groups, and expanding upon his mission to feed the world’s hungry.