Iowan Sows Seeds Of Hope For Easing World Tensions

Iowan Sows Seeds Of Hope For Easing World Tensions

One of the very few things the governments of Iran and the United States can agree upon is the greatness of Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Kenneth M. Quinn of Des Moines is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and ambassador, and is now president of the World Food Prize Foundation headquartered here. He recently returned from an unprecedented speaking engagement in Iran. He was invited to speak at a conference organized by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran and took part in the Crop Science Congress of Iran and the Iranian Seed Science Conference. The Iran visit continues a series of events Quinn has attended around the world honoring the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native.

SPEAKING IN IRAN: Ken Quinn noted that biotechnology and seed science, which are sometimes controversial, could be a way to bring Iran and the U.S. together on a mission of peace. Quinn has invited a top scientist from Iran to join a panel discussion at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogues Oct. 15-17 in Des Moines.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Borlaug's birth. Quinn offers the following insight into how one man, Borlaug, could warm relations between the country of the United States and the country of Iran. Here's an op-ed piece Quinn wrote and sent to Wallaces Farmer magazine:

How Agriculture Can Help Forge World Peace

By Ambassador Kenneth Quinn

Even though President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani were both scheduled to address the United Nations in New York this week, there was no exchange planned between them. Not a handshake, a phone call or a meeting. But there should have been. It was a unique opportunity for them to take a small but perhaps not insignificant bridge building step, one that centers on a place for which President Obama has enormous affection and which has a legacy of promoting peace through agriculture—Iowa.

Ambassador Quinn at unveiling of Borlaug commemorative art in Iran.

While the nuclear discussions that are ongoing are no doubt filled with tension and extremely difficult issues, there is one thing that both the top American and Iranian political leaders share in common: An enormous respect for Iowa-born agricultural scientist Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate and "Father of the Green Revolution."

Iranian officials want a copy of Borlaug statue for their country
On March 25, when the State of Iowa unveiled Borlaug's statue in the U.S. Capitol, the entire top bipartisan leadership of the Congress was in attendance, and all spoke glowingly of Dr. Borlaug's accomplishments. Respect for Borlaug, who trained Iranian wheat scientists in the late 1960s, is such that Iranian officials made inquiries with the artist in an attempt to purchase a copy of that same Iowa statue so that it might be erected on the campus of their ag research institutes in Karaj, Iran.


Audience at Ambassador Quinn's Borlaug Centennial Keynote in Iran.

Imagine the powerful symbolism that would be conveyed by Borlaug's statue standing in both Washington and near Tehran. But there are more immediate and practical steps that could be taken. Both the U.S. and Iran are facing the severe threat of wheat rust disease, against which Dr. Borlaug struggled his entire life. While there are many issues that divide us, this is one area where we could find steps to take together to defeat wheat rust and at the same time honor Dr. Borlaug.

Opportunity to bring Iran and the U.S. together
Following the invitation to me to speak at the August 26 Iranian celebration of the centennial observance of Dr. Borlaug's birth (it was the first time a former U.S. ambassador ever addressed a conference organized by the Iranian government), the World Food Prize has invited an Iranian expert in wheat to take part in its annual Borlaug Dialogue Symposium October 15-17, 2014 in Des Moines. Approval of the visa for this scientist would be that small but not insignificant next step.

In 1959, at the height of the nuclear threat during the Cold War, Soviet Premier Khrushchev came to the Garst farm in western Iowa where he saw firsthand impressive American corn production. That visit led to a three decades-long series of agricultural exchanges by a great Iowa leader, John Chrystal, that helped build openings and diffuse tensions between Moscow and Washington.

Borlaug legacy gives hope for easing world tensions
There is the chance for another Iowa opening now. One of the very few things the governments of Iran and the United States can agree upon is the greatness of Dr. Borlaug. Iranian scientists trained with Borlaug as he developed a rust-resistant wheat in Mexican fields in the 1960s. The Iranian scientists brought home Borlaug's work and continued to fight rust in the Middle East.

I hope that, like Khrushchev's visit to that Iowa farm in 1959, that perhaps a visit by an Iowan to address a conference on biotechnology in Iran in 2014, could likewise open a path to help ease Iranian-U.S. nuclear tensions at this time of extreme volatility in the Middle East.

Additional Reading: Press Release— World Food Prize President's Unprecedented Invitation to Iran Creates Unique Opportunity for Exchanges Through Agriculture and Biotechnology During Period of Tension and Volatility in the Middle East. For more information about the World Food Prize and this year's Borlaug Dialogue Symposium October 15-17 in Des Moines, visit and

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