Howard G. Buffett discovered his love for working in the soil at an early age. Today, he grows corn, soybeans, and wheat on a massive farm in central Illinois. So it's no surprise that he has guided his foundation toward supporting sustainable water supplies for farmers around the world.
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation — which was established with a portion of the wealth of Howard’s father, billionaire Warren Buffett — has directed about $15 million a year to global water efforts since he began funding them in 2007. The foundation became a major player in water and sanitation development in Central America and Africa, funding work through groups like CARE USA and Catholic Relief Services.
Now Buffett is moving in a different direction. In 2012, the foundation decided to refocus its water mission. In many parts of the world, water management is a key stumbling block to the agriculture industry. Buffett, who had invested million in promoting agriculture and ending hunger, decided to align the water mission with the foundation’s food security initiatives.
So while the foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals, projects that tap into the intersection of water conservation and agriculture are most likely to attract attention. The foundation promises to focus its efforts on developing better ways to manage water resources and helping farmers use them. Buffett, always the big thinker, also sees value in projects that alter public policy. Small development projects over the last several decades have largely been failures, he reasons, and no developing country will truly take off without some amount of good government.
The new mission isn’t limited to developing nations, either. The foundation will look at water management in the United States, too, focusing on sustainability and support for small farmers. Buffett frequently points out the irony of hunger in U.S. farming communities, where many families live among some of the world’s most productive farmland but struggle to find enough to eat.
"Figure this out," Buffett says. "Our country spends the lowest percent of its income in the world on its food, but it has one-sixth of its population that doesn’t know where they’re going to get their next meal. How can that be true?"