DALLAS - Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug rose from his childhood on a farm to develop a type of wheat that helped feed the world, fostering a movement that is credited with saving up to 1 billion people from starvation.
Norman Ernest Borlaug, born March 25, 1914, on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, died Saturday at age 95 from complications of cancer at his Dallas home, said Kathleen Phillips, a spokesman for Texas A&M University where Dr. Borlaug was a distinguished professor.
Dr. Borlaug "saved more lives than any man in human history," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. "His heart was as big as his brilliant mind, but it was his passion and compassion that moved the world."
He was known as the father of the "green revolution," which transformed agriculture through high-yield crop varieties and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps a billion lives.
"He has probably done more and is known by fewer people than anybody that has done that much," said Dr. Ed Runge, retired head of Texas A&M University's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a close friend who persuaded Dr. Borlaug to teach at the school. "He made the world a better place - a much better place."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called Dr. Borlaug "simply one of the world's best. A determined, dedicated but humble man who believed we had the collective duty and knowledge to eradicate hunger worldwide."
Dr. Borlaug began the work that led to his Nobel Prize in Mexico at the end of World War II. There he developed disease-resistant varieties of wheat that produced much more grain than traditional strains.
He and others took those varieties and improved strains of rice and corn to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. In Pakistan and India, two of the nations that benefited most from the new crop varieties, grain yields more than quadrupled.
His successes in the 1960s came just as experts warned that mass starvation was inevitable as the world's population boomed.
"More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world," Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Dr. Borlaug in 1970. "We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."
But Dr. Borlaug and the green revolution were also criticized in later decades for promoting practices that used fertilizer and pesticides and for focusing on a few high-yield crops that benefited large landowners.
Dr. Borlaug often said wheat was only a vehicle for his real interest, which was to improve people's lives.
"We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life," he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. "For a decent and humane life, we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing and effective and compassionate medical care."
Dr. Borlaug pressed governments for farmer-friendly economic policies and improved infrastructure to make markets accessible.
In 1986, he established the Des Moines, Iowa-based World Food Prize, a $250,000 award given each year to a person whose work improves the world's food supply.
A 2006 book about him is titled The Man Who Fed the World. And he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, in 2007.
Dr. Borlaug is survived by daughter Jeanie Borlaug Laube and her husband, Rex; son William Gibson Borlaug and his wife, Barbie; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His first wife Margaret Borlaug, whom he married in 1937, died in 2007 at the age of 95.