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Borlaug Memorial at El Batán

On Friday 18 September 2009, under the pines that Dr. Norman Borlaug had planted at El Batán many years before, CIMMYT-Mexico staff and many friends gathered to honor and commemorate both Borlaug’s extraordinary life and work in a simple and touching ceremony. Among other things, it was clear that Borlaug’s influence had reached far beyond CIMMYT. Chris Dowswell, Borlaug’s aide-de camp for three decades, described the scholarship fund Norm had started for young scientists, and Colegio de Postgraduados professor Dr. Arturo Hernández recalled how he was able to obtain an education thanks to support from Borlaug. Former CIMMYT wheat breeder and director Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, who began as a postdoctoral fellow with Borlaug, mentioned Norm’s strong focus on fieldwork but full mastery of science. Dr. José Guevara Calderón, a Mexican researcher who worked with Borlaug when he first arrived in Mexico, spoke of their experiences together and Gregorio Martínez, who for many years was in charge of institutional relations for CIMMYT in Mexico, talked of Borlaug’s charisma and influence.

A distinctive surprise was the arrival of a note reporting a special accord and moment of silence in the Mexican Senate to honor this researcher who had made Mexico his second home. A recorded message from DG Thomas Lumpkin, traveling in Zimbabwe at the time, was played, and Hans Braun gave heartfelt address. The ceremony closed with participants placing dirt and flowers around a dwarf pine planted in memory of Borlaug. Scott Ferguson, deputy director general for Support Services, spoke of how Borlaug had challenged the status quo and the supposed limits of possibility, confounding the predictions of doomsayers and saving hundreds of millions of lives. “…we do [Borlaug] a disservice to deify him, to treat him as out of touch, living in the ether of the immortals,” said Ferguson. “…as a natural teacher, he would have wanted each one of us to recognize that we could do what he did, that with passion and toughness almost anything is possible.”