FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Other Buffett Takes on Hunger

by

He could have chosen an easier path in life. After all, Howard G. Buffett is the son of brainy investor, Warren Buffett. Instead, he chose to become a working farmer in Decatur, Illinois and launch a serious effort to fight world hunger in poor countries and in the United States (where 50 million humans are “food insecure”) with self-sustaining, locally-rooted solutions.

In so doing, he has made substantive visits to over 120 countries, some of which were in the most dangerous, chaotic regions of the world including Eastern Congo to the South Sudan to violent areas of Afghanistan. He interacts with local farmers on the most minute aspects of soil, water and seeds plus the problems of credit, transportation and finding local markets.

You see, Howard Buffett is a determined empiricist and a self-taught agronomist. He wants to know what is working well with the land and what can be improved, sometimes with the help of his foundation, but always with the real changes coming from the local cultures and local famers.

His group has experimental farms in Arizona and South Africa to analyze, test and improve the diverse chains of food production for the nearly one billion adults and children in the world who suffer from chronic hunger and the lifelong physical and developmental burdens. From all this constant traveling deep into the afflicted places where subsistence farmers live, “his body has taken a terrific beating,” in the words of one knowledgeable person who has been with him on a few of these trips.

Years ago (he is 59 years old) Howard Buffett started his travels as an experienced photographer of endangered species, such as the cheetah and the mountain gorilla. These adventures in wilderness habitats and the “experiences of the poor,” introduced him to his more recent calling, to take on world hunger.

I know this from reading his fascinating, critical, encouraging, often anthropological, new book Forty Chances (Simon & Schuster, 2013), which recounts, with his own photographs of the young and old, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s efforts to help get things underway and make a difference in places where people are suffering the most. He is not reluctant to admit mistakes; he learns from them and starts fresh.

His father wrote these words in the Foreword of Forty Chances: “Howie’s love of farming makes his work particularly helpful to the millions of abject poor whose only hope is the soil. His fearlessness has meanwhile exposed him to an array of experiences more common to adventurers than philanthropists.”

This is a book with great empathy and little ideology.  Mr. Buffett opposes hedge funds being able to purchase large tracts of agrarian land in Africa as this has a long-lasting damaging impact on the people of those countries.

Howard Buffett writes that “we need to act with urgency. People are dying and sufferingtoday.” He quotes his father’s advice: “Concentrate your resources on needs that would not be met without your efforts … Expect to make some mistakes; nothing important will be accomplished if you make only ‘safe’ decisions.”

Throughout the book, it is clear that Buffett believes in advancing solutions that are localized and lasting, rather than putting forth charity that is temporary, external and induces dependency, or worse, becomes an inducement for corrupt seizure of the food by the local powers.

Forty Chances is rich with engrossing details. Buffett believes in utilizing or rediscovering old knowledge from these rural areas as well as using appropriate modern technologies that are affordable. “We can’t use Western thinking to solve African challenges,” he writes. Still, he is big on no-till techniques and cover crops.

Buffett’s poignant chapter on hunger in Illinois brought forth his admission that he hadn’t realized how “widespread and yet hidden it was,” there and around our country.

He has visited and been impressed by the Rodale Institute’s work on organic food in Pennsylvania. Yet, he uses and believes GMO crops are necessary to meet the growing demands of the world’s hungry. I look forward to the empiricism of the open-minded Mr. Buffett as he receives reports from scientists and field analysts here and abroad whose opinions differ from his, among them being the increasing evidence of resistance by mutating weeds and insects that will require ever more powerful and costly herbicide and pesticide applications (see genewatch.org).

I recommend his 411 page book for immersion reading, especially for urban and suburban people who have little understanding of what has to be done to get food to people who cannot casually drive to the local supermarket and stock up.

And stay tuned to the widening efforts (such as helping East Congolese “make soap from palm nut oil”) of Howard Buffett and his widening arc of small, informed self-starters on four continents. They are serious about implementing workable solutions. As long as he does not go too hard on himself personally and can avoid being ‘too busy’ to achieve more, I believe that the best of Howard G. Buffett is yet to come.

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail