At Age 95 Bourlaug Still Involved in Fighting Crop Disease

World Food Prize founder is leading global fight against wheat rust; shares thoughts on dangers of "food crisis."

An Iowa native, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the World Food Prize, has gathered leading wheat experts from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe to address the threat that stem rust poses to the world's wheat supply. They met in Mexico last week.

The four-day Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2009 Technical Workshop was held in Ciudad Obregón, a town in Mexico that is just miles from where Borlaug developed the "miracle wheat" in the 1940s and '50s that led to the Green Revolution and earned him the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for saving upwards of one billion lives.

While the scientists at the workshop reported significant progress in developing new varieties of wheat capable of resisting the dangerous new stem rust race known as Ug99, Borlaug stressed the need to move aggressively.

Need to move more aggressively on research

"Our scientists are making incredibly rapid progress, but we should have no illusions: a global food crisis is still a distinct possibility if governments and international institutions fail to support this rescue mission," Borlaug said in a statement.

Borlaug was the first scientist to identify the danger posed by Ug99. At his urging, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative was established in 2007 to reduce the world's vulnerability to the disease. According to BGRI, 90% of the all wheat varieties are susceptible to Ug99, an alarming number given that wheat provides 20% of the world's calories.

The Mexico conference comes just days before Borlaug's 95th birthday on March 25, which he plans to celebrate with family and friends in his Dallas home. Borlaug, an Iowa native, founded the Des Moines based World Food Prize in 1986 to inspire the breakthrough achievements needed to feed a hungry world. The $250,000 prize is awarded annually to individuals who have significantly improved the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.

The World Food Prize also hosts an international symposium, gathering top minds in agriculture to discuss cutting-edge topics in global food security. The symposium was renamed the "Borlaug Dialogue" in 2006. The 2009 Borlaug Dialogue will be held October 14-16 in Des Moines and will address "Food, Agriculture, and National Security in a Globalized World."

Work on old library to begin this summer

The World Food Prize Foundation plans to begin work this summer to transform the 106-year-old former downtown Des Moines public library into a museum and monument to agriculture and environmental pursuits.

The organization announced last week it has received two grants totaling $110,000 from Prairie Meadows, bringing fundraising to $21.1 million. Food Prize Foundation spokesman Justin Cremer said planning is underway for the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates, and the foundation hopes to begin the first phase of exterior work in late June. Completion of the nearly $30 million project is expected in 2011.

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