The father of the green revolution, Norman Borlaug, celebrated his 95th birthday in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, calling on agriculture professionals and public officials to work together to overcome threats to the world food supply.
The Nobel Laureate says population growth combined with new plant diseases are driving the need for more innovations in agriculture.
To the delight of his colleagues, family and friends, Norman Borlaug blew out the candles on his birthday cake and later rose to the podium to speak about the agricultural challenges facing the world.
Although age and health problems have slowed him down a little, Borlaug remains feisty and engaged when he talks about the need to produce more food for the world's people.
"I ask all of you to pull together," he said. "We have to all work together to improve not one crop, but all the basic crops and animal products."
Speaking to VOA after his birthday address, Borlaug focused again on the rising world population and the need for agricultural production to keep up.
"We are adding 84 million people to the population every year," he said. "We have a big job on our hands."
World population is expected to grow from 6.8 billion people today to around 9.4 billion by the middle of this century. That will require an unprecedented increase in food production despite problems such as global warming and a growing scarcity of water for farms in many parts of the world.
Borlaug says plant diseases like Ug99 wheat rust that damages crops in Africa pose a threat to the progress he and other researchers have made in decades past, developing disease-resistant and highly productive varieties of grain crops.
Borlaug sees a need for scientists from all disciplines to work together to find ways to produce more food for the growing world population.
"We need an approach on all fronts of research to make our soil more productive," he said.
Borlaug says it does not matter if this is accomplished through new fertilizers, more productive methods of organic farming or a combination of both. He says farmers worldwide need to grow more food.
Borlaug's birthday was also the occasion for an announcement by the Monsanto company of a new fellowship program named for Norman Borlaug and the late Henry Beachell, who did similar work to improve rice yields.
Ted Crosbie, Vice President of Global Plant Breeding at Monsanto, a leading agricultural technology company, describes The Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program.
"It is aimed at providing $10 million of support for graduate school education - students working on Ph.D.s who will work in a developed country and a developing country on an important problem constraining wheat and rice yields," said Crosbie. "They will be graduate students and do their research, probably, in a developed country and their research in a developing country."
Crosbie says promoting international cooperation through such programs is the best way to combat threats to food production like wheat stem rust.
"Rust spores travel internationally themselves, just like people do," he continued. "So it is going to take an international, multidisciplinary approach to solve these problems."
Norman Borlaug says programs like this are a step in the right direction, paving the way for future collaboration on wheat and rice research on an international level. Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, continues to teach at the Texas A&M University and he sits on international committees dealing with global problems such as wheat stem rust.