With 135 ratings
By: Howard G. Buffett, David Drummond, et al.
Purchased At: $18.00
If you had the resources to accomplish something great in the world, what would you do?
Legendary investor Warren Buffett posed this challenge to his son in 2006, when he announced he was leaving the bulk of his fortune to philanthropy. So, Howard G. Buffett set out to help the most vulnerable people on Earth - nearly a billion individuals who lack basic food security. And Howard has given himself a deadline: 40 years to put more than $3 billion to work on this challenge.
Each of us has about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life. Howard learned this lesson through his passion for farming: All farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. This lesson applies to all of us, however, because we all have about 40 productive years to do the best job we can, whatever our passions may be.
Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World is a book that captures Howard's journey. We join him around the world as he seeks out new approaches to ease the suffering of so many. It is told in a unique format: 40 stories that will provide listeners a compelling look at Howard's lessons learned, ranging from his own backyard to some of the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth.
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 433 pages
I was very skeptical about learning anything from this book. Howard G. Buffett’s father is a Billionaire, what could he tell me, I grew up in the real world. I was wrong, I learned a great deal from this book. The title is the key, Forty Chances. Howard is a farmer and the premise of the book is “a farmer can expect 40 chances or growing seasons to get it right.” The object of farming is to feed people not to just get a crop to market. Howard begins with farming and quickly links feeding people to places where people are starving. Starvation is linked solidly to farming failure in those locations often due to conflict. You can’t farm when a war is going on. There are other obstacles to successful farming around the world. In 40 stories (actually 41 stories) Howard details why some places in the world people cannot feed themselves. The complete title to this book is FORTY CHANCES - Finding Hope in a Hungry World. Finding hope is not preached but discovered as the 40 stories unfold. There are many dimensions to the problem of farming in the world from land ownership, seed available to social norms. I must compliment Howard for using these 40 stories to present the problems. They add creditability to the conditions he describes and to the possible solutions he presents. This is not a Billionaire telling how he thinks others should do things; this is a farmer sharing his concern, failures and successes. Thank you Howard I learned a great deal.
Michael Andrew Marsden – The North Idaho Ghost Writer
This book would be of interest to anyone, not just people interested in agriculture or international development.
The book contains much information that many will find useful and interesting. For example, being raised on a small farm, I found Bufffet's accounts of modern large-scale farming fascinating. I also appreciated his and his son's careful explanations for why U.S. mid-western farming techniques, or even close approximations, cannot be exported. Most compelling, perhaps, were reports of inefficiently dispersed aid. These are, however, coupled with careful accounts of, for example, logistical and political difficulties faced in overcoming inefficiencies, incompetence and worse.
Thus, 40 Chances is not an easy read. Because it offers much to digest, I could not credit a claim that anyone did so without ample breaks. Difficulty is exacerbated because key information often seems randomly presented. The book would be more easily read and useful were it better organized.
His book are his own, first-hand experiences - both as a farmer/philanthropist...learning about local farming practices around the world!
In "Forty Chances", a few chapters are success stories! Buffett writes with compassion, sometimes sharing warm or humorous accounts of individuals or groups....but always with throughout purpose,
Buffett raises serious concerns/even alarms... about the destructive agriculture practices around the world. He focuses on our world's history(s) of food production, about issues - including differences in soils & weather between the northern/southern hemispheres.
His writing is terse, without polemics!...
Buffett is deeply concerned about food in-security(s) and how geography (weather/soil conditions) makes a huge difference in what will/will not secure the supply of affordable food.He makes the case for HOW & WHY we must improve worldwide food security/sustainability....
Buffett makes his articulate case(s) for facing our immediate and longterm worldwide food needs - and how to re-think production practices & distribution.
Buffett is knowledgable, articulate, with personal, firsthand farming knowledge. He admits he loves big farming machines - but NOT ever 'at the expense' of both large & small farming operations and the all-important issues of climate and soils... nor the need for sustainable (long-term) production successes.He describe work of well-meaning governments, and some nonprofit agency's and their failures to understand the impact of local weather, crop failures, economic conditions, market access/transportation, local political and /or military conflicts.
Buffett advocates that international agencies, individual national govts, and nonprofits must all understand the real, local conditions (weather/water/soil/financial/politics/transportation) ...that always affect food production and distribution.
And... that local farmers (big & small) need encouragement/education on how to use sustainable farming practices, for their own hoped-for long-term economic sustainability.
The main argument: In the developed world, the vast majority of us enjoy a standard of living unmatched in the history of humankind—and going hungry is the last thing on our minds. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that poverty and hunger have been eradicated in the developed world entirely (in the United States, for example, 1 in 6 are considered food insecure—including 16 million children). Still, the greatest problems with poverty and hunger continue to exist in the developing world. Indeed, despite substantial improvements over the past 30 years, poverty remains a significant issue, and nearly a billion of the world’s 7 billion people still face chronic hunger (while about twice that number are malnourished in some way)—and millions starve to death every year.
It is not that many well intentioned people and organizations have not spent a great deal of time and money trying to solve the world’s poverty and hunger issues. Indeed, over the past half century the amount of resources that have been poured into these problems is staggering. So, just why do the problems of poverty and hunger stubbornly persist?
Well, at least part of it has to do with the fact that there are several significant obstacles standing in the way—everything from armed conflict, to corrupt governments, to particular cultural practices etc. The humanitarian Howard G. Buffet has been involved in fighting poverty and hunger for upwards of 30 years, and knows these obstacles all too well. However, Buffet insists that there is yet another reason why all of the well-intentioned efforts have fallen short of reaching their ultimate goal. And that is that many of the approaches have proven to be inadequate (if not downright counter-productive).
The fact is that most of the aid flowing to the poorest parts of the world has been (and continues to be) in the form of projects that are meant to help people in the short-term. For example, NGOs commonly enter an area, drop off bags of seed and fertilizer, and then turn around and leave. This approach may help the area for a season or two, but in the end the seed and fertilizer do run out, and the community is right back to square one. Thus the approach acts more as a band-aid, than a self-sustaining solution that addresses the root causes of poverty and hunger.
Thankfully, in Buffet’s 30 years of work as a philanthropist he has learned that there is indeed a better approach, and one that stands a much better chance of rooting out poverty and hunger for good. The more effective approach is much less about aid as development—less about helping people as enabling people to help themselves.
The development approach involves linking subsistence farmers up with the larger economy, and establishing a self-sustaining ecosystem that will allow this connection to be maintained into the future. It involves things like helping to establish agricultural schools and private seed companies; working with farmers to improve farming techniques and yields (and not in a way that assumes that what has worked well in one place—or one’s own backyard—will work everywhere); establishing grain storage systems; physically connecting farmers to markets; and working with governments to establish and maintain the infrastructure (especially roads) needed to make the system work smoothly.
The development approach may be more involved and take longer to get off the ground, but it pays off in the end, as when it is done well, it only has to be done once (Buffet speaks often about NGOs needing to take an approach that ultimately puts themselves out of business).
And helping impoverished farmers join the larger economy is not just a matter of helping them help themselves. The fact is that the world’s population is continuing to grow, while we are running out of good farmland to farm. The UN estimates that in order to feed the world’s projected 9 billion people by 2050, farmers everywhere will need to increase the planet’s food production by 70%. Part of the solution to this problem must involve helping the world’s subsistence farmers to produce a surplus to help everyone.
But the solution doesn’t end there. Farmers everywhere, including in the developed world, will need to increase their yields to meet the growing demand. However—and this is important—farmers will need to increase their yields in a sustainable way. That is, they will need to do so in a way that does not degrade the soil, or threaten the world’s fresh water or woodlands—as too often happens now.
Thankfully, Buffet’s experience as a farmer (which he has been practising even longer than philanthropy) has shown him that here too there is a solution. And a big part of this solution is a very straightforward approach known as no-till farming. No-till farming is an approach that eschews tilling the soil in favor of planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops. The approach not only increases water retention, saves soil, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, it also helps increase yields (and thus it’s a win-win solution). Now it’s just a matter of convincing other farmers of this—which is a big part of Buffet’s project.
This is a fantastic book. Don't let the fact that Buffet is the son of one of the wealthiest men on the planet dissuade you from taking him seriously. The author may have had a head start in life, but he stands on his own two legs, and he has used his privileged position to help him gain perspective (rather than let it make him arrogant and entitled). Anyone interested in the hunger problem (and the best way to approach it) would be well advised to read this book. A full executive summary of the book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com; a podcast discussion of the book will be available soon.