The Buffetts are Hungry for Food Security

Much like hunger and poverty, philanthropy is often generational. Through family foundations, children become caretakers of their parents’ philanthropic legacies. In some cases, however, the children are encouraged to establish their own legacies. Warren Buffett, for example, gave $1 billion to each of his three children in 2006 for the sole purpose of pursuing their philanthropic passions, and recently doubled down on his commitment to their foundations.

Warren’s son Howard G. Buffett, and his grandson Howard W. Buffett seek sustainable long-term solutions to feeding the one billion people in the world that are chronically hungry.  It’s something they know a little bit about: Howard G. considers himself a farmer first and foremost, having been a farmer for more than 30 years. In order to tackle the problem, the Buffetts recently released a book called 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, and launched a series of programs with the same name.

The title comes from the idea that the average small farmer has 40 productive years, or 40 chances to produce a successful crop. The Buffetts stress that traditional ideas like giving farmers seeds and fertilizer are not sustainable solutions; once the supplies run out, the farmers are no better off than they were before. Rather, they are looking for more innovative ways to improve food security such as developing food transportation and storage systems, access to financial tools, teaching farming techniques, and building agricultural schools. One of the most important focuses, according to Howard G. Buffett, is sustainable soil. “If we don’t start taking care of our soil – and in Africa’s case, rebuilding highly weathered and degraded soil,” he says in an interview with Forbes Magazine, “we will not be able to meet our growing food needs.”

Howard and his son have just finished the first leg of a national book tour to promote their cause, and currently have two competitions open: a National Agricultural Innovation Prize open to college and grad students, and a 40 Chances Fellowship for students and post-grads. They also recently wrapped up a competition for high school students just before Thanksgiving, and are planning the launch of a program that will focus on seeding innovative ideas from start-up nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.

There’s also a good chance that this will lead to more work on a policy level. “It’s amazing to me how much influence non-farmers have on agricultural policy globally,” says Howard G.  “It’s kind of like me going to a doctor who didn’t go to medical school – chances are the outcome is not going to be good.”

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