National Geographic : 1975 Jul
machinery, he sometimes yoked himself to a plow to till a test plot. He is no less dedicated and energetic today as the director of the wheat program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known as CIMMYT, its Spanish acronym. "When we talk about world food produc tion," Dr. Borlaug said, "our best index is grain. Cereal grains are basic to the diets of peoples everywhere, whether they eat them directly, as in the poorer nations, or indirect ly, as dairy products or grain-fed beef, pork, and chicken. Each year the world consumes a total of 1.2 billion metric tons of grain. "This is equivalent to a highway 55 feet wide and six feet thick, built entirely of grain and stretching around the earth at the Equa tor. Each year it is eaten in its entirety and must be replaced. And expanding demand for food adds 625 miles more each year." Technology Gives U. S. the Edge To fill its empty storehouses, the world must turn largely to the United States and Canada, whose dominance of global grain trade rivals the dominance of the Middle East nations over petroleum. On his roaring tractor or combine, the U. S. farmer presents a Bunyanesque figure. Where his Soviet counterpart feeds six besides him self, the American supports 46; where an Asian or African spends five days in the field to produce a hundred pounds of grain, the American spends only five minutes. In 1974 his crops-with soybeans, wheat, and corn at the top of the list-brought in 20 billion dol lars from abroad, enough to pay for four fifths of the country's oil imports. At the other end of the food scale, the United Nations identifies 33 countries that are seriously threatened by major food short ages (map, pages 4-5). No country, however, has lived more inti mately with the specter of famine than China. During 1876-79 alone, drought claimed an estimated 13 million victims. Today that land of 822 million appears to have the upper hand over hunger, according to a group of ten U. S. plant scientists. During a visit last year they saw widespread irriga tion works and high-yielding rice varieties bred by Chinese geneticists, and learned of crash programs to build fertilizer plants. "Even China's population must be coming under control," says Rockefeller Foundation Vice-President Sterling Wortman, who led the delegation. "Marriages are delayed until the man is 28, the woman 25. The Chinese are ingenious in directing social and economic pressures toward smaller families." The visitors heard repeated references to Chairman Mao's dictum, "Store grain every where." Households and communes are urged to store stocks of grain to guard against a bad year. "They are still a poor people," says Dr. Wortman, "but I came away feeling I need not worry about China feeding her people, as long as she is not disrupted by war." Today this worry shifts south to the soft Hope in his hands, an Ethiopian relief worker stirs powdered milk from the United States. Food shortages in drought-stricken Ethiopia helped undermine the government of Emperor Haile Selassie. Sea of sacks laps a mountain of U. S . sorghum on a dock at Dakar, Senegal. The food is destined for the Sahel, where famine has claimed perhaps 100,000 lives. Can the World Feed Its People?