In 2006, Howard G. Buffett was given an opportunity to accomplish something great when his father, Warren Buffett (the fourth richest person in the world), told him he would be receiving $3 billion to use toward a charitable effort.
If you were in this situation, what would you do? Howard G. Buffett chose to attack the world’s hunger problem head-on. Not only does he want everyone across the globe to be well fed and healthy, but he wants this to happen in the next 40 years.
In their 400-plus page book, "40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World," the father-and-son duo share inspiring stories, lessons and challenges from their quest to wipe out hunger.
The 40-year deadline was inspired by a planter clinic held at Sloan Implement in Assumption, Ill. "Farmers tend to think about their profession (as) just once cycle after another," Buffett recalls being told. "You plant, you spray, you harvest and before you know it, you’re starting over." Buffett says they were encouraged to recalibrate how they think. "By the time you climb into the tractor with your dad and learn how to plant and then you climb off to let your son or daughter plant, you have about 40 crop seasons," Buffett says. "That really hit me. I never really thought about how short of a time period that is."
The reality that most people only have 40 prime years to accomplish their goals was a sobering and inspiring thought for Buffett. With this new mindset, he says his organization, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, has pledged to take action, make mistakes and create real progress.
It Starts with the Soil
Buffett says a common mistake he’s seen in many philanthropic efforts is the incorrect assumption that what works in the developed world, primarily the U.S., will work across the globe. "The biggest mistake we made for a long time was thinking that what we do can just be transferred," Buffett says.
In undeveloped countries, farmers can’t own land, don’t have access to new technology and don’t have an established land-grant university system. All of those are huge obstacles to overcome. Buffet is well traveled, having visited 130 countries, but he’s a farmer through-and-through. Buffett says the first thing he does when he visits a new place is drop to his knees and rub the soil between his fingers. He has made soil conservation one of the key components of his hunger solutions.
"Great civilizations have failed because they have not taken care of their soil," he says. "I have a farm that I can dig down and see 5’ of black dirt with 4% organic matter. I can waste a lot and still get by. Not everyone has that luxury."
Buffett hopes U.S. farmers, who he says have done more than anyone in the world to feed the hungry population, continue to adopt soil conservation methods such as no-till, cover crops and nutrient management. "If we aren’t the best stewards we can be, how do we expect others to do it? We’re all in this together," he says.
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Howard G. and Howard W. Buffett just finished a nine-city press tour across the country to promote their book, "40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World." Read some of the additional press coverage of their tour:
Bloomberg: Howard Buffett Finds 40 Chances to Get Philanthropy Right
Today Show: '40 Chances': Warren Buffett's son strives to feed the neediest
Time: Howard G. Buffett Wants to End Hunger, One Chance at a Time
USA Today: An end to hunger could be a Buffett away