The High-Yield Seeds That Helped Avert Famine

Rice fields in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Photograph by Fayaz Kabli/Reuters/Corbis

1965 Disease-resistant wheat seeds developed by Norman Borlaug are introduced in India and Pakistan.

Far more than politicians or pop stars, biologists are responsible for the world’s success in reducing hunger. In the 1960s, Borlaug and an international community of scientists developed high-yielding strains of rice and wheat that were distributed to farmers in poor nations. The innovations helped avert famine in South Asia, saving hundreds of millions of people and setting the stage for India’s development. A simple formula has since fed the world: Lots of fertilizer, water, and pesticides added to high-yield seeds equals a full pantry. Environmental harm and fragile single-crop agricultural systems followed from the new techniques, but those effects must be weighed against the millions who would have perished if Borlaug’s ideas hadn’t taken root.

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