Cresco, Iowa, native Norman Borlaug looked back on 60 years of work feeding the hungry during the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines Thursday– and he also gave his opinion on the future. The 90-year-old won the Nobel Prize for his work and also started the World Food Prize. He says Africa today is the biggest problem we have, as there’s been a lot of progress in Asia. Borlaug says there are two aspects in dealing with food — producing enough and then distributing it equitably. He says the problem in Africa is lack of purchasing power for a vast number of people. Borlaug says the problems in Africa are much the same as in the U.S. in the 1930s as he was growing up. He says we forget about it in our affluencey, but the third world is still facing the problems. He says we don’t understand the problems, but he says the 1930s are that far back when we had the same problems. Borlaug says we need to get beyond the barriers in the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering. He says all the strains of wheat were genetically engineered by Mother Nature through the years. He says biotechnology, which he says he likes to call transgenics, is a new tool that needs to be combined with what we know from conventional genetics and plant breeding. He says it can allow us to do things we’ve never done before. Borlaug says a good example is using biotechnology to prevent rust fungi in wheat — something he’s fought against all his carreer. He says rice is the only major cereal grain to not have rust problems and he says someday those rice traits will be transfered to wheat. He says it will come to be, but he won’t live to see it. He says he hopes somone will pick up the research so he can at least see it get started. Borlaug says improving crops to feed the hungry will require an international effort. He says there’s a real need for international collaboration like they had on projects in the 1960s and 70s on wheat. He says there needs to be more work on G-M-Os in the public sector, saying he’s not against the private sector, but believes public universities and other entities need more money for research. Borlaug says we need to rethink our priorities in spending.He says we have difficulties in getting money for research, while the world spends 900-billion dollars on armament and the military, and he says he’s sorry to say the U-S spends over half of that. Borlaug’s comments were part of the World Food Prize symposium honoring this year’s World Food Prize winners.
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