Why is Norman Borlaug getting one of America's top honors?


He's not a household name, but Norman Borlaug saved lives. By some estimates he saved one billion people from starvation.

The University of Minnesota graduate was an agricultural scientist who developed high-yield varieties of wheat and introduced them to countries around the world that were plagued by hunger during the Twentieth Century.

The Pioneer Press reports Borlaug, who died in 2009, will be honored by his native state of Iowa when his likeness is sent to the U.S. Capitol to be part of the Statuary Hall collection later this month.

Every state has two of its most memorable residents memorialized with statues at the Capitol. Later this month Iowa will send one of Borlaug to Washington. Borlaug's statue depicts him in a field of wheat with his notebook. The Pioneer Press says it was made of bronze by South Dakota artist Benjamin Victor.

After growing up in Iowa, Borlaug earned undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from the U of M, finishing in 1942. Increasing the world's food supply then became his life's work.

He teamed with scientists around the world to develop types of wheat that were tailored for lands where famine was rampant, such as India and Pakistan. In 1970 he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Unlike some scholars, Borlaug apparently had a reputation for getting his hands dirty. His Nobel biography from 1970 reads in part: "A vigorous man who can perform prodigies of manual labor in the fields, he brings to his work the body and competitive spirit of the trained athlete, which indeed he was in his high school and college days."

Indeed, Borlaug was a wrestler for the Golden Gophers while on campus. After his death a tribute published by the university included this observation: "Plant breeders are unlikely celebrities, but in many developing countries, Borlaug is a hero."

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Borlaug was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation says he also received more than 50 honorary degrees.

When it arrives in Washington his statue will replace one installed more than century ago of Sen. James Harlan. Harlan will travel back to the hawkeye state to take a place at Iowa Wesleyan College, where he once served as president, the Pioneer Press says.

The dedication of Borlaug's statue is set for March 25, which is the centennial of his birth.

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