PBS documentary profiles Norman Borlaug and his ‘Green Revolution’: It fed billions but critics claim unintended consequences

rs borlaug norman in field
Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Credit: Micheline Pelletier/Sygma/Corbis

The Man Who Tried to Feed the World tells the story of Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in fighting global hunger. By increasing the world’s food supply, Borlaug made it possible for the planet to support far more people than had been thought possible, saving countless lives in the process. But in doing so, he unleashed a series of unintended consequences that tarnished his reputation and forever changed the environmental and economic balance of the world. Written, directed and produced by Rob Rapley and executive produced by Mark Samels and Susan Bellows, The Man Who Tried to Feed the World premieres Tuesday, April 21, 2020, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video App.

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Borlaug meticulously planted, cataloged, and pollinated thousands of wheat varieties, finally developing an all-purpose plant that could revolutionize a country’s food production. But there was a catch: Borlaug’s new wheat required massive amounts of costly fertilizer and water — an expense far beyond the means of most peasant farmers.

[B]y 1970, Borlaug’s “revolution” was becoming a global leviathan …. Borlaug would spend the final decades of his life watching his methods and achievements come under increasing fire by a wide range of critics, who held him responsible for soil degradation, the reduction of the water table, the spread of toxic chemicals, and the destruction of rural society around the world.

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