The Man Who Saved Millions of Lives

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The Man Who Saved Millions of Lives

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He saved more lives than any human who ever lived. Yet you probably do not know his name. Some say he was the "person of the 20th century." He would certainly have my vote. I first heard of his work 40 years ago but thought by now he had died until I read a book about the world food crisis last month and saw that at age 95 he was still working. His name was Norman Borlaug, and he died this week.

Borlaug was a plant scientist who led a research effort during the 1950s and '60s that started what became known as the "Green Revolution." His work in Mexico led to the development of a variety of hybrid grains that could be grown in many climates, was immune to many common diseases and produced larger yields. The result was larger harvests to feed the world's growing population.

The Wall Street Journal writes that from the time of the U.S. Civil War through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the average American farm produced 24 bushels of corn per acre. By 2006 output had multiplied to near 155 bushels per acre. The same results have occurred around the world and are the key reason the world's burgeoning population has been fed and kept alive. The article goes on to say, "In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands 'at the lowest level in human history,' despite the global population having trebled in a single century" ("The Man Who Defused the 'Population Bomb,'" Sept. 16, 2006).

The Population Bomb was a book published in 1968 by Dr. Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich predicted a dire scenario of famine and death for millions in the developing world because of a lack of food. No doubt many would have died had not a revolution in plant science, led by Borlaug, produced the means for increased food production. Thankfully, Ehrlich's predictions, and those of others, have not come to pass.

Borlaug's work has been heavily criticized because of its reliance on lots of fertilizer and pesticides. Fears of genetically modified food keep some grains out of world markets. But the poor who survived because they were fed do not have the luxury of such debates. They lived and grew to adulthood as humans created in the image of God. At a future point on God's timeline they will come to know Him in the fullest and truest sense and have the opportunity to take their place within the family of God. Thus human life is of inestimable value. Whatever anyone might say, Borlaug's work allowed many millions to live instead of starve to death.

Unfortunately, food shortages and resulting famines in developing nations have not been eliminated. Weather upsets, government policies and political corruption have created pockets of famine resulting in the deaths of many hundreds of thousands. Those problems continue and Bible prophecy shows us they will one day result in the ride of the black horseman of famine foretold in Revelation 6:5-6.

The world continues to face potential shortages of the basic resources of food and water. There will be a time when the problems will be too great and simply overwhelm humanity. Fortunately, the same prophecies tell us God will step in to end the suffering and save the world from unimaginable destruction.

Until then it is good to celebrate people like Norman Borlaug. Borlaug, who turned his back on wealth and fame to continue working in the trenches for the good of all. It is a sad commentary on the shallow American culture that most do not know this man's name. Now you do. Be glad he lived.