Thursday, October 14, 2010

Howard Buffett calls for a "brown revolution"

As was pointed out in our previous post, increased food production can help to lower the cost of food. If the small farmers of the world could greatly increase their yields, not only would they have more food for themselves, any extra they sell in market would be more affordable for their hungry neighbors.

How best to increase yields is being discussed at the World Food Prize symposium. Howard Buffet used his speech to state the need for improved soil nutrients in Africa. Howard, the son of the investor Warren Buffet, leads his own foundation concerned with farming.

The article on Buffett from Bloomberg mainly focuses on his future at his father's business Berkshire Hathaway. For our snippet, writer Alan Bjerga and Andrew Frye touches on his speech at the World Food Prize forum.

A “Brown Revolution” to improve soil quality is more important to African agriculture than new seeds and fertilizers, said Howard Buffett, who may succeed his father, Warren Buffett, as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Africans who farm plots of less than 3 acres (1.2 hectares) will need tailored solutions that may be different from the “Green Revolution” that boosted crop yields in Asia, Howard Buffett, 55, said today in a speech at the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Food security is complicated, agriculture is complicated,” said Buffett, who illustrated his speech with anecdotes and photographs from interviews with African farmers. “Simply distributing seeds and fertilizer, if that’s the plan, will fail long term.”

Buffett, a Berkshire director since 1993, is an ambassador against hunger for the United Nations’ World Food Program and runs the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which aids subsistence farming. Today, the foundation announced $13 million in grants over four years to small farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Fluctuations in the cost of staples are “a pretty scary thing” to poorer populations that spend almost all of their income on food, Buffett said in an interview after his speech. A stronger agriculture infrastructure will protect against higher prices, he said.

“You have to start with the basics,” including agricultural education, literacy and investment in roads and storage necessary to bring farm goods to market, he said. Then, farmers will be integrated into the global market as poor countries become more self-sufficient and are able to export cash crops, he said.

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