Howard Buffett's Food Fight
In his new book, Fragile: The Human Condition, the farmer-philanthropist offers up an unexpected solution for solving Africa’s hunger problem. Plus, view photos of Buffett’s philanthropic travels around the world and read more about his giving.
Howard G. Buffett’s journey as a philanthropist began when he was just five years old, when his parents—investor Warren Buffett and the late Susan T. Buffett—invited an exchange student from Sudan into their Nebraska home who opened his eyes to the world beyond Omaha. After traveling as a teenager to Prague during the Communist era and to Morocco, Ghana, and South Africa, Buffett began to have questions about a world he saw as riddled with conflict and poverty. Today, he is a farmer, photographer and an agricultural activist—and combines his interests in his new book, Fragile: The Human Condition, which documents in words and photos the hunger, civil rights, and economic issues of 64 countries. He currently farms 1,400 acres in Illinois, and oversees 9,200 acres of agricultural land in South Africa. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation funds projects in 35 African countries, focusing on agriculture, water and conflict zones.
In a piece below, Buffett argues that there is no quick fix to solve Africa’s hunger issues. As an expert on global farming practices, Buffett believes that the so-called Green Revolution, a popular movement based on the notion that technology can help solve the global food crisis by increasing food yields, will not succeed in Africa. While mechanizing food production worked in Mexico and India, Africa’s soil and people are so diverse that agricultural reform must start on the smallest levels.
Read on for Buffett’s plan for African aid, and to see a gallery of his philanthropic journeys around the world.
Sponsored by Global Philanthropy Group.
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Read Howard Buffett’s Plan for African’s Food Crisis Below:
In a terrible irony, the twenty-first century’s unprecedented funding for improving agriculture in Africa may also be our greatest failure. The faith placed in technology and Western farming systems and the call for a green revolution in Africa ignores the vast physical, political, and cultural differences found across the African continent. This is an egregious mistake. No technology or single philosophical approach can simultaneously correct soil fertility, replace organic matter, or substitute for human knowledge across a continent the size of China, India, and Russia combined. However, we have seen a powerful marketing campaign that positions Western systems and technological advances as the key to unlocking the pervasive food insecurity across Africa’s 54 countries. A singular focus on technology implies that agricultural production is a simple formula responsive to human innovation. It is not. Unfortunately, this has not deterred a variety of stakeholders from making bold proclamations to the contrary.
Technology has an important role to play in enhancing nutrition, increasing crop yields, and facilitating food security. It can and should be fully utilized to secure these goals. At the same time, we cannot conclude that it is a silver bullet to a complex problem. Doing so obfuscates our ability to critically examine and replicate the successes of alternative, science-based low-input solutions. When technology is treated as an agricultural panacea, we force farmers to adapt to existing research rather than the more appropriate inverse—research which helps farmers increase productivity within their current systems.
Africa is not conducive to the type of green revolution that occurred in the twentieth century. The green revolution in India and South East Asia emphasized monoculture wheat fields and rice paddies based on the intensive use of fossil fuel inputs to achieve maximum yields; A large portion of Africa requires stable yields, adapted to low-input systems that maintain multiple crops. Most African farmers rely on crop rotations, intercropping, and heterogeneous cropping to survive extreme conditions. Systems that drive uniformity have a negative impact on both traditional values and the environment, and can exacerbate hunger by reducing crop diversity.
Howard G. Buffett directs a private family foundation that funds projects in over 65 countries. He also owns and operates a farm in Illinois and has served on two United States Trade Representative Committees and in numerous executive positions. Buffett is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger.