By Brenna Goth/CIMMYT
CIMMYT will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Norman Borlaug with the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security from 25 to 28 March. We’re recognizing his legacy and considering its future with an event held where some of Borlaug’s most important work first began – Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico.
Ciudad Obregón is deeply embedded in the history of Dr. Borlaug and CIMMYT and continues to be shaped by the wheat research taking place there. It has been referred to as “The Town That Wheat Built.”
October 2014 will mark 70 years since Dr. Borlaug first came to Mexico as part of a Mexico-Rockefeller Foundation program. His work started in Ciudad Obregón, in northwest Mexico’s Yaqui Valley. He worked closely with the farmers in the area, a relationship CIMMYT maintains today.
When Dr. Borlaug started his research in Mexico, 60 percent of the country’s wheat was imported. He wrote in a preface to Wheat Breeding at CIMMYT: Commemorating 50 Years of Research in Mexico for Global Wheat Improvement, “Unfortunately, inexperience in breeding for disease resistance by those left in charge led to disastrous stem rust epidemics in 1939-41 that essentially wiped out the whole crop. This was the environment in which I found myself when I arrived to establish a wheat breeding program in Sonora.”
Facing stem rust epidemics, Dr. Borlaug started shuttle breeding to expedite wheat improvement and utilized different locations to grow two generations of wheat in one year. By 1956, Mexico was self-sufficient in food production. Borlaug’s subsequent world travels inspired him to bring young scientists to Mexico for intensive plant breeding courses and send them back to their home countries with wheat samples.
Dr. Borlaug often said the Yaqui Valley was where he most felt at home. His memory lives on in Obregón – one of the city’s main streets is named after him and, in March 2010, the CIMMYT research station was renamed Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug. This center continues to be a hub of wheat research and training.
The Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security will recognize the work done at Ciudad Obregón and the impact it had worldwide. The summit will also start new conversations about wheat’s role in food security and what Dr. Borlaug might have done today.