A Buffet story

What would you do if you were given a billion dollars to use for philanthropy? Who would you help? Would you teach people so they could help themselves?

In an amazing book book, “Forty Chances,” Howard G. Buffet (son of the Oracle of Omaha Warren E. Buffet) explains what he is doing with the bequest from his father and the progress being made, one farmer at a time.

Buffet farms 1,500 acres in central Illinois about half of the year. The rest of the time he works his euphonious philanthropy foundation, helping farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. With a moderate background in feeding hungry people, he had been supporting non-governmental organizations with well drilling and teaching people how to farm. Once he received his foundation funds, he knew challenges and learning awaited him. He then had the means to fulfill more dreams.

The book title comes from a talk Howard G. heard wherein the speaker quantified the average years a farmer actively works his or her farm as 40 years. (I would raise that number to 50 or even 60 years for the farmers I know.) The point is you have only so many years to improve your crops and it’s vital to learn new information and weigh whether or not it will be something for you to use, every year.

One of the things that might surprise readers is that Howard G. is a self-made man. Years before he was given the foundation funds to help others, not himself, he made his own way in the world, starting with buying a very used CAT 955K front-end loader, then learning how to use it. By happenstance, returning a favor to a man, he dipped his toe into farming and he liked it.

Over the years Howard G. became an accomplished photographer and he traveled the world. That was where he discovered starving people in Ethiopia, Senegal, the Sudan and other countries in Africa. Though they tried to farm they used old knowledge, had but a hoe, if that, for equipment, worn out soil and little water for crops or people. It broke his heart and he vowed to help.

Being a hands-on farmer he didn’t just dole out money and walk away. He purchased farmland in various areas. That gave his foundation the same basis to really understand the problems of the farmers he wanted to help. In spite of tribal customs, witch doctors and even governments, patience paid off in the end and thousands of people were helped. He provided them with wells, better seeds and taught them how to build up their soils.

“Forty Chances” discusses the role of farmers and ag companies around the world that are involved with assistance. Overall it is interesting due to the fact that Howard G. delivers insight into world success stories not just world problems.

Readers may not agree with his thoughts in every aspect, yet his opinions make you ponder your beliefs. It is refreshing to learn that he earned his way as a farmer then was able to extrapolate that knowledge — and more — into using foundation funds to improve the world.


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