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Saving the lives of one billion people: guest editorial

Doug Steele Director Texas AampM AgriLife Extension College Station TX
<p> Doug Steele, Director Texas A&amp;M AgriLife Extension College Station, TX</p>
Norman Borlaug was ninety-one when he was informed that he had personally been responsible for saving the lives of over one billion people. Henry Wallace created the research station where Borlaug developed the hybrids. George Washington Carver inspired Henry Wallace.

While it is true that most people never see or understand the difference they make, or sometimes only imagine their actions having a tiny effect, every single action a person takes has far reaching consequences.

Norman Borlaug was ninety-one when he was informed that he had personally been responsible for saving the lives of over one billion people.

Norman Borlaug hybridized corn and wheat for arid climates. The Nobel committee, the Fulbright Scholars, and many other experts calculated that all across the world – in Central and South America, Western Africa, across Europe and Asia, throughout the plains of Siberia, and America’s own desert Southwest – Borlaug’s work has saved from famine over one billion people . . . and the number is increasing every day.

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For all the credit he’s received, which was earned and well deserved, maybe Borlaug was not the person who saved the one billion people.

I believe it was probably a man named Henry Wallace, who was vice president of the United States under Roosevelt, during his third term.  Henry Wallace was a former secretary of agriculture.  As Vice President, he used his power to create a station in Mexico with the sole purpose to somehow hybridize corn and wheat for arid climates, and he hired a young man named Norman Borlaug to run it.  So, while Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize, it was really

Henry Wallace whose initial act was responsible for saving the one billion lives.

Now that I think about it, maybe it wasn’t Henry Wallace who should’ve gotten the credit; maybe it was George Washington Carver who saved the one billion lives.

Henry Wallace to George Washington Carver

What many people don’t know about George Washington Carver is that while he was 19 and a student at Iowa State University, he had a dairy sciences professor who allowed his own six-year-old boy to go on botanical expeditions every weekend with this brilliant student.  George Washington Carver took that little boy and directed his life.  And it was Carver who gave six-year-old Henry Wallace a vision about his future and what he could do with plants to help humanity.

Carver developed 266 products that we still use today—from the peanut.  And then there’s the sweet potato.  He developed 89 uses from it.  He also wrote an agricultural tract and promoted the idea of what he called a “victory garden” to ease food shortages during the war.

But with all the time and effort and years that Carver spent on things like peanuts and sweet potatoes and victory gardens, isn’t it amazing that a few afternoons with a six-year-old boy named Henry Wallace turned out to make that much difference?

But maybe it was actually a farmer from Diamond, Missouri, who saved one billion people. A farmer in Diamond, Missouri, named Moses, and his wife Susan lived in a slave state but didn’t believe in slavery.  They were known as “sympathizers.” One cold winter night Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Moses and Susan’s farm.  They burned the barn, shot several people, and dragged off a woman named Mary Washington, who refused to let go of her infant son, George.

Mary Washington was Susan’s best friend, so Moses sent out word immediately, to arrange a meeting with those cutthroats, trying to do something to get Mary and her baby back.  Within a few days, he had the meeting set; and so, on a bitter cold January night, Moses took a black horse and went several hours north to a crossroads in Kansas.

There he met four of Quantrill’s men and Moses traded his only horse for what they threw him in a burlap bag. There in the freezing dark, with his breath’s vapor blowing hard and white from his mouth, Moses brought out of that burlap bag a cold, naked, almost dead baby boy.  And he opened up his jacket and he opened up his shirts and placed that baby next to his skin.  Moses fastened that child in under his clothes and walked that baby back to Missouri!  Talking to that child every step of the way – telling the baby he would take care of him as his own, promising to educate him to honor Mary, his mother, who they knew was already dead.

That night the farmer told the baby he would give him his last name, and adopt him as his own son.  And that is how Moses and Susan Carver came to raise that little baby, George Washington.

So there it is; it was obviously the farmer from Diamond, Missouri, who saved those one billion people.

For the truth is, who really knows who it was whose single action saved one billion people?  How far back could we go? And how far into the future could we go to show how many lives you will touch? 

Let’s work together to face the upcoming certainties, realizing that we all have a vested interest in our mutual success and that Extension will continue to be relevant, viable and essential for years to come.


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