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40 Chances
Finding Hope in a Hungry World

Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett
From 40 CHANCES by Howard G. Buffett. Copyright 2013 by Howard G. Buffett and
the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
464 pages


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Billionaire Warren Buffett gave author Howard G. Buffett, his son, $2 billion to start a
foundation to address issues that concerned him.
A farmer brings in approximately 40 harvests over a lifetime; Howard G. Buffett
believes that people have approximately 40 active years to accomplish good works.
Buffett believes in long-term, sustainable solutions to hunger instead of temporary aid.
Food insecurity, a global problem, is a scourge in even the wealthiest countries.
Learning the realities of a situation firsthand surpasses any other research.
When food-aid providers try to impose their cultures, beliefs and systems on developing
countries, any success is only short term.
Western farming methods do not easily translate to other nations and climates.
If a nation suffers from unrest, abuses of power, totalitarianism or internal conflict, its
people will be hungry.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and charities should work to put themselves
out of business by augmenting the effectiveness of anti-hunger efforts.
New initiatives that target good governing and agricultural infrastructure show promise.
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What You Will Learn
In this summary, you will learn:r1) How Howard G. Buffett began his quest to solve global food insecurity; 2) How
some programs, policies and people worldwide make a positive impact; and 3) Why some well-intentioned programs
and policies are not effective.
Do you know that youll have dinner tonight? If so, youre lucky. Nearly a billion people around the world are food-
insecure. Howard G. Buffett an Illinois farmer and president of an eponymous foundation endowed by his famous
father, billionaire Warren E. Buffett scours the globe for projects that will help end world hunger. Just as a farmer
brings in about 40 harvests over a lifetime, author Buffett tells 40 stories about lessons hes learned in philanthropy
about trying to make a difference. He travels to dozens of countries, funds programs that work and diagnoses efforts
that dont succeed. He and his son Howard W. Buffett describe their work and their findings in this engaging book.
getAbstract recommends their illuminating treatise to budding philanthropists; to those interested in conservation
farming, sustainability, social issues and food security; and to everyone who knows whats for dinner.
Wherever they live
and no matter how
big or small they are,
farmers take better care
of land if they own it.
Youll get forty
chances to plant your
crop, adjust to what
nature throws at you
and hope for the best.
Its enough time to
learn to do it well. But
its not forever.
Solving World Hunger
Howard G. Buffett runs a private foundation focused on addressing global food insecurity.
He also notes, I farm 1,500 acres in central Illinois. His father, billionaire investor Warren
E. Buffett, gave Howard an enormous grant to start a philanthropic foundation. The elder
Buffett challenged his son, asking: If you had a billion dollars to do something important,
what would you choose? In response to that question, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation
has given more than $200 million in grants globally to programs combating world hunger
that he hopes will help make a difference not by mounting temporary fixes but by
generating self-sustaining solutions.
Over a lifetime, a farmer has about 40 chances to plant a crop. Buffett thinks he has a
similar number of years to tackle the problem of world hunger. Worldwide, approximately
879 million people live in a state of food insecurity. Persistent hunger lies at the
root of so many of the worlds problems for instance, lack of education, terror threats,
prostitution, armed conflicts and destruction of natural habitats.
Food Insecurity
Over the past decades, the developed world and particularly the United States rushed
emergency food aid into various nations during different crises to address immediate needs.
Quick fixes are just that. Addressing world hunger calls for lasting, sustainable solutions.
Attacking food insecurity means bringing bright minds and voices from many different
backgrounds to the table people who consider the climates, economies and cultures
afflicted by hunger around the world.
Many people dont understand that Western farming methods grounded in the rich soil
of the American continents fertility belt do not easily translate to other environments
and soils around the world. However, crafting sustainable, global solutions requires
understanding biodiversity. Fighting hunger calls for using a wide range of approaches that
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To lift people out
of the dehumanizing
and painful state of
food insecurity will
always be worth it. And
sometimes it will even
Where there is poverty
and conflict, there is
always food insecurity.
Its not only physically
uncomfortable, but
also degrading and
We cant use Western
thinking to solve
African challenges.
In America, millions
of families are a layoff,
a personal crisis, or
a serious illness away
from financial trouble
so severe that they
could end up without
enough to eat.
arent limited to soil conservation, farm subsidies or organic farming. As a farmer who
once worked for the agricultural giant ADM, Buffett learned to appreciate the differences
in soil worldwide.
Where Hunger Happens
Buffett quickly understood that his foundation had to address hunger around the globe.
The problem wasnt limited to any one country. A look around his hometown, Decatur,
Illinois, proved that hungry, malnourished people live everywhere, including in all those
cultures where most people have plenty to eat. One in six Americans is food insecure,
with finances so tight that an emergency or economic downturn can force them to choose
between shelter and food.
Worldwide, up to 20 million children suffer from and at least one million children under
age five die every year from severe acute malnutrition. In Guatemala, for example, many
families dont appear unhealthy, but suffer from micronutrient deficiency due to poor
diets. Hunger occurs in countries at peace as well as in countries at war, but war almost
guarantees hunger. If a nation suffers from unrest, abuses of power, totalitarianism or
internal conflict, its people will be hungry. Food insecurity is linked also to sex trafficking,
slavery and revolution posing almost insurmountable obstacles to anyone who, like
Buffett, addresses the problem of hunger.
In his quest to tackle hunger, Buffett learned the value of firsthand research approaches that
make him optimistic. A trip to Malawi, for example, taught him that people who eat termites
and rodents are not necessarily starving. And, some efforts are succeeding. For example,
crop breeder Joe DeVries spearheads an initiative called Program for Africas Seed Systems.
With support from the Buffett and Gates Foundations, it supports development of research
capacity and builds the private market for improved seeds, bred to grow in the countrys
soil and climate conditions.
In Colombia, the entertainer and singer Shakira supports school-lunch programs that feed
hungry children, help them perform better in class and motivate their parents to send them
to school. If we believe that a school-lunch program is important in the worlds wealthiest
country, imagine its value in the poorest countries, where most of the hungry school-age
children live. A team of rangers at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic
of Congo promotes gorilla tourism to benefit the local economy so the Congolese dont
destroy gorilla habitats in order to eat. Funding such endeavors taught Buffett that the best
approaches consider local circumstances, economic priorities as well as long-term benefits
beyond food security, like education.
Programs That Dont Work
Buffetts travels brought him into contact with failed efforts he calls hard-learned lessons;
these lessons illustrate how nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other well-
meaning entities fail through flawed planning and implementation. These programs
include efforts in the following countries:
Africa One of the most pressing problems is access to clean water. Many
organizations mistakenly believe that digging wells offers a quick-fix solution. These
charities and their donors insist on tangible actions like well-digging over spending
money on governance or long-term planning.
Angola World Visions food-aid program ultimately proved unsuccessful due to
the restrictive land tenure system. Local farmers dont own their land and can be
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About 16 million
children in the United not know
where their next meal
is coming from, and a
box from a food bank
may be more important
to them than many of us
can possibly imagine.
Water is so
important...that families
will put a child on a
dangerous road night
after night with a
burden that a grown
man would struggle to
To appreciate
the unique
you want to make a
difference, you have
to spend time on the
Linking hunger and
education is one of the
strategies for battling
hunger that works just
about everywhere in the
quickly run off the plots they work. Buffett saw villagers who were literally starving
but even if he devoted millions of dollars to help them, he realized that emergency
intervention...was not going to change the underlying issues preventing meaningful
development. His Angolan experience clarified his understanding of why charities
tackle problems one project at a time, and yet fail to solve the problem of hunger.
Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Liberia Land tenure is also an issue in these countries,
wherein governments sell land to overseas investors who either transport crops back
home or sell them abroad.
Mexico Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug helped launch the Green
Revolution by breeding a new strain of wheat for starving people in India and Pakistan.
But the Borlaug approach is not a universal panacea for hunger. In India, for example,
farmers excessively applying nitrogen fertilizers degraded the soil over time. This also
occurs in the Yaqui Valley of Mexico, where farmers who overfertilize also use furrow
irrigation that washes topsoil away. The Yaqui Valley illustrates how techniques are not
transferable from nation to nation, culture to culture or climate to climate.
Mozambique Having witnessed a well-coordinated food aid effort in Pakistan after
the country was shaken by an earthquake in 2005, Howard G. Buffett was disappointed
to find charities in Mozambique engaging in monetization selling donated food to
underwrite other projects. Monetization should stop; it unintentionally lowers local food
prices. Farmers in Mozambique and elsewhere practice slash and burn agriculture
the destruction of rain forest to create farmland. Slash and burn degrades soil and fuels
food insecurity globally.
South Africa Buffett funded an initiative to protect the African cheetah, but
encountered the kinds of cultural disconnects that are fatal to any charitable endeavor.
Culturally, Africa has a different approach to planning, time management, scheduling or
implementing. Understanding this social reality helped Buffett see that food-insecurity
projects must involve local actors from the inception and must acquaint them with new
ways of working toward long- and short-term goals.
South Sudan Warlords and armed groups appropriate food aid by threatening the
local populace.
Thailand Howard G. Buffetts son, Howard W. Buffett, visited Thailand after the 2004
tsunami. He found that some relief efforts were under substandard management. NGOs
and other organizations competed for the fastest, most visible results, and some funds
went into advertising their efforts instead of assisting tsunami victims.
Programs That Almost Work
In his global search for initiatives worth funding, Howard G. Buffett discovered efforts
against food insecurity that are close to achieving effectiveness. For example, the number of
elephants in northern Botswana has grown so dramatically that today there is one elephant
for every person there. The two populations vie for basic resources. There are complex
and expensive methods for reducing elephant-caused damage. However, the traditional
migration tool of burning chili-pepper soaked cloths on the edges of the fields repels
elephants because the chemical in the chilies stings their trunks.
Some programs in the US should be tweaked or dropped altogether. We should end
nearly eight decades of subsidizing crop production and instead figure out how to subsidize
and incentivize highly productive farming practices that conserve natural resources
namely, soil and water. Washington should instead support farming that protects natural
resources soil and water. Government should work to encourage farmers to practice
soil-sustaining methods before it becomes necessary to mandate them.
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Innovation isnt easy.
Pride may make a
farmer throw good
labor and money after
Living is not the
same as thriving
and...achieving food
security is never a quick
Wherever people are
starving and fear for
their future, terrorists
and fanatics will use
food to lure some to
the darkest corners of
human existence. Food
is power.
In Afghanistan, as a member of a governmental team working to rebuild the war-torn
countrys farming sector, Howard W. Buffett learned that local farmers need to rely
on a value chain an agricultural ecosystem that promotes economic collaboration
and helps ensure that harvests reach the marketplace. Without a reliable value chain,
farmers become discouraged from planting nourishing crops and turn to the easy money
of the poppy trade. The Buffett team learned that consulting with shuras, or village
councils was a much more effective way to create the infrastructure that supports a revived
agricultural sector.
The Buffett Foundation supports programs that empower women. Buffett believes that such
programs must address gender issues broadly involving all members of a community
and taking cultural attitudes and traditions into account. Buffetts foundation also funded
studies on whether food aid leads to violence in underdeveloped countries. Research
suggests that violence attracts foreign aid, but food assistance appears to diminish internal
and external conflict.
Pessimistic Optimism
Calling himself a pessimistic optimist, Buffett has found that the following efforts give
him encouragement for the future of food security:
Africa Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair created the Africa Governance Initiative,
which, at African countries invitation, develops the capacity and institutions necessary
to tackle African countries biggest challenges.
Brazil The Brazilian government opened the tropical savannah known as the
cerrado to agriculture that uses no-till practices to encourage soil conservation and
focusing on soybean production. Formerly, 11% of Brazilians qualified as malnourished;
now only 6% do. Brazil may serve as a model for small farmers on Africas savannahs.
Central America The World Food Programs Purchase for Progress initiative buys
local food for food-insecure populations and ensures that local growers can transport
their harvests to market. Buffetts foundation builds on this effort by teaching farmers
necessary business skills.
Democratic Republic of Congo Theo Chocolate, a Seattle candy company, practices
enlightened capitalism by buying cocoa from smallholder farmers in Congo. It is
putting in place the training and value chain connections that have a chance to pull many
people out of extreme poverty.
Ghana Farmers now are learning why they should forgo slash and burn tactics for
conservation farming. Buffetts foundation supports programs that teach farmers how to
use no-till methods to produce bigger yields more efficiently.
Nicaragua The Agriculture for Nutrition program teaches small-scale growers how
to gain ownership of the land they work and helps them develop the market expertise
they need.
United States Buffetts foundation funds Map the Meal Gap, a website tool that
provides data on US food insecurity. The USDA Conservation Stewardship Program
educates American farmers on low-tech changes, such as methods of soil maintenance.
About the Authors
Howard G. Buffett, son of Warren E. Buffett, chairs the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and oversees 1,500 acres in
Illinois. He farms in Nebraska with his son, Howard W. Buffett, who is also active in conservation.
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