Congress gave a place of honor Tuesday to agriculture visionary Norman Borlaug, adding his statue to the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, but congressional leaders said an even better way to carry on his legacy is to continue his research to feed the world.
Congressional leaders unveiled a bronze statue of the Iowan on Tuesday, which would have been his 100th birthday and is also National Agriculture Day.
Borlaug grew up during the Great Depression and later worked to feed the hungry by advancing agricultural technology, fighting crop diseases, engineering grains to have higher yields, and sharing his research with farmers, especially in the Third World, until the day he died in 2009.
“We need to remember that Norman Borlaug’s legacy will not be determined just by what he did during his brief time on earth. It will be determined by what we do together to expand his vision of stewardship toward this planet and the people who live on it,” said Rep. Bruce L. Braley, Iowa Democrat.
Borlaug is one of only three Americans to receive the top three awards for humanitarian work: the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the others being civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel).
Speakers at Tuesday’s dedication ceremony, many of whom met Borlaug when he received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, spoke of him as a modest man who was not afraid to get his hands dirty to solve problems. While research was a priority for him, his biggest goal was to spread knowledge to farmers and get any advances implemented in the real world as soon as possible.
“Today, we live in a very different world from the one that Norman Borlaug was born into. It’s a world with less preventable misery, less hunger, and more hope for the hungry,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “What a legacy for this humble farmer from Iowa — this unlikeliest of revolutionaries, this man who changed the planet with a grain of wheat.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Borlaug’s research saved more than 1 billion lives over the course of his lifetime by feeding starving people across the country and around the world.
“More than others, he heeded the biblical call to feed the hungry,” she said. “He shared his story and his experience, a way of imploring us to never accept the unacceptable status quo, to never allow countries or communities to go hungry when it is in our power to prevent it.”
The ceremony also included singing of the Iowa Corn Song, which many in the audience chimed in for, and a prayer from Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who said those who saw the statue should learn from Borlaug’s legacy to “strive to leave the world better than we found it.”
Statuary Hall served as the House chamber for the first half of the 19th century, but now holds some of the collection of statues — generally two from every state — that make up the Capitol’s collection.
The statue of Borlaug replaces one of James Harlan, a former senator from Iowa and secretary of the Interior under President Andrew Jackson, according to the Architect of the Capitol. The Harlan statue will move to Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he served as president.
Iowa’s other statue depicts Samuel Jordan Kirkwood, who served as the governor of the state during the Civil War.