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The gifts of radar and wheat

In Darfur, a team from Boston University used radar data to find an ancient underground lake, which is the size of Lake Erie in the US - the 10th largest lake in the world. There is now enough water for both black African farmers and Arab nomads to share, if they will. It is hoped that access to fresh water will help the peace process, and provide “the necessary resources for the much needed economic development in Darfur".

Finding this marvellous lake is directly due to the efforts of British scientists who developed radar in the 1930s. Catherine wrote about Alan Dower Blumlein last week. Robert Watson-Watt, Harry Boot, and John Randall are described in our timeline here.

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On another front, Norman Borlaug, who was born 1914 in Cresco, Iowa, became a plant breeder, and in the 1940s moved to Mexico to study how to adopt high-yield crops to feed impoverished nations. "Through the 1940s and 1950s, Borlaug developed high-yield wheat strains, then patiently taught the new science of Green Revolution agriculture to poor farmers of Mexico and nations to its south. When famine struck India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, Borlaug and a team of Mexican assistants raced to the Subcontinent and, often working within sight of artillery flashes from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, sowed the first high-yield cereal crop in that region; in a decade, India's food production increased sevenfold, saving the Subcontinent from predicted Malthusian catastrophes. Borlaug moved on to working in South America." Now 93, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor, he is beginning a major push for high-yield farming in Africa.

Borlaug’s work with high-yield crops is the direct outcome of the research and achievements of British scientists such as John Bateson who founded and named the science of genetics in 1905; Rowland Biffen, who in 1910 hybridized a strain of wheat resistant to rust, a devastating fungal disease that wrecks harvests and causes starvation; and the John Innes Centre, founded by the British philanthropist John Innes, which since 1910 has supported the work of scientists carrying out plant research for the good of us all.

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