Youth Canada

The Man Who Saved One Billion Lives

10-10-2008 by Yi-Jeng Huang

The Man Who Saved One Billion Lives

Can you name the man whose life’s work saved at least one billion living breathing and (sometimes) thinking human beings?

Last year, Newsweek reported that an elderly agronomist (an agricultural scientist) was given the Congressional Gold Medal by the President of the United States. I'm ashamed to admit that I too, didn't know why some old scientist who like to study crops got such an important award. For those of you who didn't know, this award is the highest award that the US government can bestow upon a civilian. Digging a bit more, I discovered he also won the Nobel Peace Prize as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Only 5 people ever won all three awards, including legends such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. Who is he? His name is Norman Borlaug.

Dr. Borlaug, who was born in 1914, the year one of the most devastating wars of all time (that's WWI), went on to become one of the greatest humanitarians of all time. During the 1950s, he traveled the world introducing high yielding varieties of crops combined with modern biotech and agricultural production techniques to third world countries like Mexico, Pakistan, India, and China. His work lead to doubling of yields in most of the countries and greatly reduced the threat of mass starvation. In fact Mexico now has more food than it can eat, and exports the food to the US. Conservative estimates accredited him to have saved more than one billion people from starvation during those years. If you count the people born afterwards, well, it would be much more would it not?

Last year, at the age of 93, he traveled to Africa with Angelina Jolie, in order to promote his techniques and policies to the last continent facing major starvation every year. Hopefully he does better than the rest of the world with all our good intentions.

So why do we know all about celebrities, and next-to-nothing about an incredible human being? Maybe it's about time we all do a bit of digging to really find people who are making a difference and share that knowledge with one another. I find it personally humbling to not know how to pronounce the last name of one of the greatest human beings of this century.

"You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery."
--Norman Borlaug.

YI-JENG HUANG loves school and he has devoted a better part of his life to it. It was regretful he didn't get to attend kindergarten, but he made it up by needing many extra years to finish his M.Sc. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry degree at SFU. Only recently did he venture out into the real world, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to tackle the Pharmaceutical industry! He also helps out Global Agents for Change to help Eliminate World Poverty! Email your comments to