Special Guests: Dr. Norman Borlaug and Author Leon Hesser

Dr. Borlaug’s new biography, by Leon Hesser: The Man Who Fed the World


Penn’s just about trembling.

Dr. Borlaug: The green revolution. India, Turkey, Iran, China, through Latin American countries. High-grain yield crops, good crop management. Economic policies to help the small farmer to adopt the technology. Several-hundred-million lives saved.

Dr. Borlaug won Nobel price in the 1970’s. Nobody had ever won in food & agriculture before.

Hesser: Dr. Borlaug launched The World Food Prize. Financed by John Ruan, millionaire born in same year and state as Dr. Borlaug.

Penn: Bumper crop for people the year they were born in Iowa!

“Let’s give up on India” was the sentiment when Dr. Borlaug started his work there. Many parts of the world were running out of land to grow enough food. Science and technology increased yield on the available land.

Difference in yield in Pakistan and India in first experiments. Old tech crops: 10-11 bushels of wheat per acre. With new tech: 75-85 bushels per acre.

Two books in the 1970’s: “Population Monster” and “Famine 1975”, were a burden they were carrying on their backs. Made it harder to pass necessary economic policies.

Penn: People still quote the books, as if there hasn’t been a green revolution.

Dr. Borlaug: Not everybody celebrating green revolution. Some countries still struggling to get moving in changing their technology.

He saw starvation in our own country during the 1930’s depression.

The greater problem is distributing the food equitably.


Penn trembling through entire break. Pre-order Dr. Borlaug’s biography on amazon.

Penn: Both Dr. Borlaug and Leon Hesser have butted heads with people who call themselves environmentalists. People afraid of genetically modified foods.

Hesser: Dr. Borlaug has saved more habitat than anybody in history by increasing crop yields. It’s puzzling why the so-called environmentalists object to this marvelous technology that increases yield/quality of food.

Dr. Borlaug: Grain is the basis of our entire food system: Rice, wheat, corn, animal feed. Total food production cereal grains in the 1950’s: 620 million tons. By 2000, about three times as much.

660 million hectares of food grown in 2000. We would have had to cut down three times as much forest or ploughed up three times as much grazing land to produce the harvest of 2000, compared to the harvest of 1950 with old technology.

Dr. Borlaug has spent 62 years in food-deficit countries. Trained as a forester.

Letter from Grand Rapids, Michigan: The world already produces enough food to feed everybody. Countries can’t afford to buy it.

Dr. Borlaug: The problem is distribution.

Penn: If you know the lyrics of one pop song, you know too much about music and too little about your world. Learn about Dr. Borlaug!


Not taking calls. Penn’s greedy!

Penn: If you know one name of one person alive today, it should be Dr. Normal Borlaug.

Dr. Borlaug: Still working at 92. Part-time employee of three different organizations throughout the year.

Hesser: Golden rice, enhanced with vitamin A. Prevents blindness. One example of genetic modification.

Dr. Borlaug: One of his hopes is to transfer fungi-resistance from rice to other grains. Genetic makeup for bread-producing wheat is a natural cross done in pre-history.

Organic fertilizer: You can’t produce 80 million tons of crops a year with cattle manure.

Penn: What can we do?

Dr. Borlaug: Start with broader picture than food. Education needed, especially in affluent nations. Major part of the population is urban. Lost their roots. Don’t understand complexities of feeding a population of well-past the six-billion mark.

Rockefeller and Ford foundations were the pioneers of the green revolution in the 1960’s.

Hesser: Worked a year and a half on the biography. Has known Dr. Borlaug over 40 years.

Penn: What do you want people to take away from the book?

Hesser: Dr. Borlaug has produced high-yielding people as well as high-yielding crops. Training and education. His goal would be to have young people interested in the problems of the world.

Penn: What’s the next breakthrough?

Dr. Borlaug: The ability to transfer genes. We’re hopeful that we can increase nutritional quality, drought resistance, disease resistance. We may actually find genes in crosses that we couldn’t use before that we can use thanks to new technology.

Penn gets choked up!

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