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Toespraak van minister Schouten bij de Borlaug Youth Institute Prize 2018
Toespraak van minister Schouten (LNV) bij de uitreiking van de World Food Prize (Borlaug Youth Institute Prize) op 31 augustus 2018 in Wageningen De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.
|Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit
I’m proud to be here for the presentation of the first Borlaug Youth Institute Prize. Norman Ernest Borlaug and I have something in common: we both grew up on a farm in a small town. I grew up in Giessen, a village of about 1500 people.
Mr Borlaug was raised on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, population 2500. In a region that would soon produce so much grain, it would come to be known as 'the world’s breadbasket'.
We both saw how food is made. We both saw the world behind the groceries all of us buy at markets and stores. A world of hard work, of living close to nature. But apart from our farming origins, our lives were very different.
Norman Borlaug was born during the First World War. As a student in Minnesota, he witnessed poverty and hunger during the Great Depression. These experiences, and his Christian faith, shaped his ambition to feed the hungry.
He travelled all over the world and learned about different ways of growing food. A lot of food. In fact, some people say that his work saved a billion people from starving to death.
That’s hard to imagine. Because here in the Netherlands there’s so much food available, all the time. We can buy avocados from South America at 9pm. We can get a burger in the middle of the night. It’s almost like we have too much food – we throw away millions of kilos every year.
But when Mr Borlaug started his work, starvation was widespread. The Second World War had just ended and the global population was growing fast. Experts were predicting a worldwide food shortage: a famine. As Mr Borlaug put it himself, 'Hunger has been a constant companion, and starvation has all too often lurked in the nearby shadows.'
But his work prevented this famine. Millions of people in the developing world had food, thanks to his ideas and the farmers and scientists who put his ideas to work.
But it wasn’t easy. In the 1960s, Mr Borlaug worked in Pakistan and India, where people were starving. So he arranged for 35 truckloads of high-yield wheat seeds to be transported from Mexico, via the US. These were seeds that would produce more wheat on less land.
The trucks were stopped by the Mexican police; then blocked by US border agents. Finally, the seeds were loaded onto a ship headed for the subcontinent. But when it arrived, war had broken out between India and Pakistan. So planting the seeds was dangerous.
But Mr Borlaug, together with a courageous Mexican scientist, planted them anyway, while guns were going off in the distance. The wheat that grew from those seeds prevented a lot of people from starving.
Because of this, Mr Borlaug was able to import more seeds and plant them in more places. A few years later, India and Pakistan were harvesting millions more tonnes of wheat than they had before. They not only had food, but farmers could also make a living from producing food. This shows that a kernel of grain can contain a whole new world.
For this work he received the Nobel Peace Prize. While accepting the award, he talked about a world that was hungry, 'both for bread and for peace'. He imagined a world in which people were free − free of war, and free of famine.
Mr Borlaug’s work shows that if we can change the way we produce food, we can also change the world. And it shows that with a good idea and hard work, you can make a real difference in people’s lives.
I look at your ideas and I think they have the power to bring change too. Some of you even looked at another planet to see how we can change ours! From light on Mars, to growing peas, sea lettuce and radishes on Earth. We need this kind of radical thinking to fight food shortages with science.
795 million people in the world are still hungry. That’s why the second Sustainable Development Goal is to eliminate hunger by 2030. And hopefully sooner. An ambitious goal. I’m happy that the Development Goals are called Sustainable Development Goals.
During his lifetime, Borlaug was criticised for focusing mainly on producing a lot of food, and not so much on the consequences this would have for the environment. We’re more aware of these consequences now.
In fact, in 2014, former US President Barack Obama wrote a letter to Mr Borlaug’s granddaughter, saying: 'We will use the sorts of technologies pioneered by your grandfather to help farmers and ranchers face the climate challenges ahead.'
Farmers can’t live without nature. It’s the source of their income and our food. And in a way, nature needs farmers too – because they take care of nature, the source of their livelihoods. So we have two goals that should go hand in hand.
On the one hand, producing enough healthy, safe and affordable food for a growing population. And on the other, producing food in a sustainable way, with respect for nature, and in compliance with our ambitious climate goals
We need to ask ourselves this: how can we make food now, in such a way that our children and grandchildren have enough, and can still enjoy the natural world in the future?
The answer lies in what this generation chooses to do. And in the kind of first-rate green education and research found here in Wageningen.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As Mr Borlaug said himself: 'Reach for the stars! Although you can never really touch one, if you stretch yourself, you will get a little 'star dust' on you, and you will be surprised what you will be able to achieve for yourself, your families, communities, nation, and indeed the world!'
Norman Borlaug is known as the father of the Green Revolution. Your generation could produce the ideas that spark the next Green Revolution. A revolution that will allow us to grow enough food but in a sustainable way. I hope that you will choose a future in farming or food. Because we need ideas. You might say, we need food for thought and we need thought for food. And your ideas could save lives and save our planet.