By Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, worked closely with Dr. Norman Borlaug for almost a decade. A career American diplomat, he was the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He is also a member of the Advisory Group of the Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative.
The G8 meeting at Camp David the weekend of May 18-20 will occur between two significant dates in U.S. agricultural history, both of which have a relation to President Abraham Lincoln and America’s single greatest plant scientist – Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the Father of the Green Revolution, the late Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.
As such, they will have special meaning for President Barack Obama, who is hosting the gathering of global economic leaders and addressing The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.
Just three days earlier, on May 15 Secretary Tom Vilsack will have presided over the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Department of Agriculture in 1862. One month later, June 26, will mark the sesquicentennial observance of the passage of the Morrill Act, which led to the creation of the Land-Grant College system and the proliferation of agricultural research centers and extension services across America. It is remarkable that two such historic achievements could have taken place during the conflagration of the Civil War, with such enduring impact.
These two institutions – USDA and the Land-Grants – were at the forefront of the America’s sustained agricultural development and the uplifting of consecutive generations of Americans through increased food production and enhanced nutrition. They remain 19th century creations still worthy of emulation by developing countries seeking to enhance their agricultural sectors in the 21st century.
In recognition of these sustained achievements, my World Food Prize Foundation will present our Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Medallion to both USDA and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) this summer. It is a most appropriate recognition, given that Dr. Borlaug was born on an Iowa farm, graduated from one of those Land-Grant institutions – the University of Minnesota – and had his first employment with the Forest Service of USDA. He is arguably the most significant alumnus of both institutions in their illustrious histories.
Dr. Borlaug also has a special connection to President Obama with great relevance to the G8 summit. In 2008 during the presidential campaign, he wrote to both Senator Obama and Senator McCain urging them to bring a special emphasis to global agricultural development should they be elected. Senator Obama wrote back, pledging just such a focus.
Dr. Borlaug wrote these letters because in the last decade of his life, he was fearful that his country and the international community would not have the will needed to make the investments necessary to produce food to feed the nine billion people who will be on the planet in 2050. He saw vital research programs being cut back at public institutions and tough choices necessitated by budget deficits threatening programs he thought were vital. One of his last trips to Washington was to meet with Congressional leaders to retain funding for his beloved Borlaug Fellows program, which brings young research scientists and agribusiness executives to America.
Dr. Borlaug was heartened by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s articulation of the principles that would underlie the Feed the Future initiative at our World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony at the State Department in June 2009. He was further encouraged by the appointment of Dr. Rajiv Shah to USDA, and by the leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in bringing attention to his dream of a Green Revolution in Africa. The commitments made in July 2009 at L’Aquila (just two months before his death on September 12) were another significant step that made him feel that, at last, his urgent pleas were being heard.
In the years since his death, the U.S. government and separately the G8 have made significant commitments to address the issues in the world to ensure that that there will be sufficient nutritious food to feed the burgeoning world population. But as budget deficits and political change affects government on both sides of the Atlantic, the key question now is can it be sustained?
Will America be prepared to continue to make the resources available so that this country can continue in the leadership it has demonstrated since 1862 and, most significantly, following World War II?
Will the G8 have the collective will to continue the commitments made at L’Aquila?
If Norman Borlaug could be here for The Chicago Council Symposium, I have no doubt that he would stand up and say… WE MUST!