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.

More articles by:

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

January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail