FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Other Buffett Takes on Hunger

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! 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 09, 2020
John Davis
Freedom Virus
Vincent Emanuele
The New Normal: Cascading and Multilayered Crises
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie’s Last Tape
John O'Kane
Remove the Boomer Virus and What Virus Remains?
Kevin Bixby – Daryl T. Smith
The Border Wall Risks Us All
Nick Pemberton
Could COVID-19 Count Fox News Among Its Victims?
Howard Lisnoff
American Exceptionalism in the Face of Covid-19
Charles Pierson
We Are Living (And Dying) in Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”
Sam Husseini
Sanders Suspends: What Happened? What Now?
Binoy Kampmark
Banal Terrors: Pandemics and the Ordinary Business of War
Ted Rall
Why We Need a New Progressive Party and How We Can Create It
Walden Bello
Martin Khor: the Making of a Global Activist
Ariel Dorfman
COVID-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile
Merriam Ansara
John Lennon in Quarantine: a Letter From Havana
George Wuerthner
Politics and Corruption at Grand Canyon
Eugene Schulman
Lost in the Pandemic: the Forever Wars
Dean Baker
Basic Economics for Economic Columnists: a Depression is a Process, Not an Event
George Ochenski
The Dishonest Mr. Daines
Mike Ferner
Love in a Dangerous Time
Brian Horejsi
Beware Government Secrecy in Times of Pandemic
Sam Pizzigati
No Fennel in the Sausage, No $600 for the Jobless
Jason Christensen – John Carter
Conservation Groups Oppose the Nature Conservancy’s Cattle Grazing Development Project on the Border of Canyonlands National Park
April 08, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Body Politic
Eve Ottenberg
Amid Plague, Sanctions are Genocide
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
How China Learned About SARS-CoV-2 in the Weeks Before the Global Pandemic
Bill Quigley
Seven Disturbing Facts About COVID-19 in Louisiana
Joyce Nelson
BlackRock Takes Command
Geoff Dutton
Coronavirus as Metaphor: It’s Not Peanuts
Richard Moser
From Strike Wave to General Strike
Gary Leupp
Could COVID-19 Kill Capitalism?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Corona, Capital and Class in Germany
Tom Crofton
Aspirational vs Pragmatic: Why My Radicalness is Getting More Radical
Steve Kelly
Montana Ballot Access Decision Suppresses Green Party Voters
Jacob Hornberger
Muhammad Ali’s Fight Against the Pentagon
Phil Mattera
The Rap Sheets of the Big Ventilator Producers
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19?
Rick Baum
When “Moderate” Democrats Lead the Ticket and Win, Down-Ballot Candidates Soon Suffer Losses
Jake Johnston
Tens of Millions Will Be Pushed into Poverty Amid COVID-Induced Recession
Kim C. Domenico
Healthy and Unhealthy Fear in the Age of Coronavirus
John W. Whitehead
Draconian Lockdown Powers and Civil Liberties
Binoy Kampmark
University Bailouts, Funding and Coronavirus
Luke Ruediger
BLM Timber Sale Increases Fire Risk, Reduces Climate Resilience and Harms Recreation
John Kendall Hawkins
Slavoj Žižek’s Virulent Polemic Against Covid-19, and Stuff!
Nyla Ali Khan
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Adversity
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail