“The fact that farmers go hungry is a big paradigm shift for the people in this room,” Howard G. Buffett told the audience during his keynote address at the opening of the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. And it is hard to believe that although small-holder farmers produce most of the food in sub-Saharan Africa, they are also the most at risk for hunger and poverty.
Because of their importance as agricultural producers—and their vulnerability to poverty—Buffett, who is also the President of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, says that you need an approach to agricultural development that doesn’t dismiss small-scale farmers. “Never look at the smallholder as an impediment,” he said, but as an important part of finding ways to alleviating hunger and poverty.
Buffett went on to say that while he believes research and development of drought tolerant maize, genetically engineered crops, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) work on seed breeding through its Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) are important, he also cautions simply depending on technology to help solve hunger.
“Fertilizers don’t do much on depleted soils,” and “hooking farmers on fossil fuel-based fertilizers isn’t going to work,” said Buffett. According to him, what’s needed is a “Brown Revolution” in Africa to help build up the continent’s soil and prevent desertification. His foundation has had great success, he says, promoting the use of cover crops, mulching, and other techniques that help build up organic material in soils.
But, he also noted, that he’s invested $145 million in 70 projects around the world and “hasn’t come close to the success we should have seen.” Simply increasing yields, according to Buffett, won’t help address poverty—farmers need better access to market, better ways of reducing post-harvest loss, better training and education, and better national policies.
Stay tuned for more about the World Food Prize later this week.