New Documentary Explores One Agronomist’s Complicated Legacy

Norman Borlaug devoted his life to tackling world starvation. However the famend agronomist’s work, which has been credited with saving greater than a billion folks from hunger, additionally left a legacy of unintended penalties.

Within the 1960’s and 70’s Borlaug developed methods for crossbreeding crops that created excessive yield disease-resistant strains of wheat. Critics of commercial agriculture, nonetheless, affiliate him with the massive portions of water, pesticides and fertilizer that had been used to realize these excessive ranges of manufacturing.

The complexity of his agricultural legacy was what filmmaker Rob Rapley says he wrestled with in his newest documentary about Borlaug, The Man Who Tried to Feed the World.  He says he aimed to spotlight what one individual can accomplish once they’re decided.

“You may have a look at his story any method you need,” Rapley says. “However, I hope folks see that he was a properly intentioned individual with pure motives.”

Within the PBS movie, scheduled to premiere at 9PM, ET on April 21, Rapley makes an attempt to create a deeper understanding of who Borlaug was as an individual and what influenced his path in agriculture. He believes breaking down the small print of the scientist’s previous exhibits he solely wished to assist the hungry.

“Critics of commercial agriculture have a tendency to have a look at a number of the unfavourable penalties they usually search for a villain, who must be accountable for this stuff,” he says. “They’ve tended to put it at Borlaug’s doorstep with out actually studying about him personally.”

The documentary reveals particulars of Borlaug’s upbringing the place technological developments in agriculture gave him the beginning he wanted in life. As a toddler, he labored from daybreak till nightfall utilizing strategies within the discipline much like the traditional Romans. However within the mid-1920’s, the introduction of the Henry Ford tractor let him cut back the period of time he spent engaged on his household farm to attend school.

Within the 1940’s, after he obtained a Ph.D. in plant pathology, Borlaug was recruited to a Rockefeller Basis program designed to develop agriculture for rural farmers in Mexico. On the time, he was employed to defeat stem rust, a fungus which was destroying the nation’s wheat crops yr after yr. When he arrived, he was struck by the prevalence of malnutrition he noticed throughout the nation and wished to do one thing about it.

By the early 1960s, many farmers in Mexico embraced his illness resistant selection and wheat output within the nation had soared six fold in comparison with the degrees of the early 1940s. Borlaug was then invited to India in 1963 to assist tackle meals provide points. In 1968, when his wheat program was carried out, the harvest was one and a half occasions bigger than the earlier report. And by 1970 variants of his wheat had produced record-breaking harvests in different nations like Turkey, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That very same yr he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his capacity to scale back world starvation. 

His strategies additionally triggered what’s now referred to as the Inexperienced Revolution. As industrial agriculture has grow to be widespread, the viewer learns that Borlaug believed his wheat varieties and the chemical substances used to develop them had been solely strategies created to purchase time for one more 20-25 years earlier than world starvation may very well be addressed in different methods. 

Right this moment, the repercussions of his efforts are sometimes related to environmental destruction akin to groundwater depletion, desertification, soil erosion and the unfold of poisonous chemical substances. Acknowledging this criticism, Rapley believes Borlaug’s story may be seen as a precious lesson in order that historical past doesn’t repeat itself. 

“He exhibits us the peril of taking a purely scientific method to fixing actual world issues,” he says. “This serves a cautionary story as we examine scientific options to issues like world warming.” 

The Man Who Tried to Feed the World will premiere on PBS American Expertise, and the PBS Video App. It’s also out there on DVD from PBS Distribution.


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