Buffett: Governments Must Make Agriculture a Priority

April 1, 2014 06:21 AM

By Meghan Eldridge

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico — Of prime importance in the fight against hunger is getting governments worldwide to see the value of farmers, says philanthropist and farmer Howard G. Buffett.

Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, sees both negative and positive changes in the focus of agricultural research since Norman Borlaug began working in the Yaqui Valley of Mexico in the 1940s.

In the United States, government funding is moving increasingly away from supporting agricultural research, while a greater number of private companies are spending millions of dollars to fight against hunger, Buffett said. For research and innovative technologies to affect real change in countries outside the United States, nations need effective policies and governance on and off the farm, he said.

"The easy part is writing the check or giving someone seeds," he said. "Government has to make agriculture a priority to make real change happen."

Buffet made the comments in an interview March 26 before a presentation at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security, in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico.

Buffett points to Africa as an example of a region that requires stronger leadership to improve food security. Many presidents in the region don’t recognize farmers as part of the solution to hunger in their countries, he said.

"Africa has gone backward in terms of malnutrition, not in every country, but until a government says ‘we’re going to make agriculture a priority,’ no change can happen," he said.

Increasing global food production furthers the need to turn attention to conservation practices to preserve soil and water resources, Buffett said.

"The thing that scares me the most is water, particularly water for agriculture," he said. "It’s going to be a real crunch point for agriculture."

The United States already has the knowledge necessary to implement conservation practices in agricultural production, but many farmers are reluctant to do so on their own farms because they deviate from traditional practices, he said.

As a farmer operating more than 1,400 acres in Arizona, 4,400 acres in Illinois and 9,200 acres in South Africa, Buffett puts his belief in conservation into practice. He’s implemented no-till agriculture for 20 years, using principles that maintain soil nutrients and limit erosion.

Trying to change human behavior is a challenge since many farmers have grown crops in the same ways for generations, he said.

"It’s not rocket science — it’s human behavior," Buffett said.

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