Farmer Howard Buffett says, "We need to quit thinking about trying to do it like we do it in America"
Some of our subscribers have expressed surprise at the fact that a director of Bill Gates's pet project, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), would caution Kenya against going down the GM route.
AGRA, founded by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations in 2006, is notoriously obsessed with pushing GM seeds and agrochemicals onto African farmers. The Gates Foundation has substantial shares in Monsanto.
But with regard to Kenya, AGRA director Sylvia Mwichuli recently said, “Introducing GM to [Kenya's farmers] would be jumping the gun. The technology is not the panacea to food insecurity. There are many more beneficial technologies in Kenya that have not been spread to farmers. That is where we should start …"
Mwichuli's view finds resonance with that of Howard Buffett, the son of Warren Buffett, who donated the vast bulk of his fortune - $31 billion - to the Gates Foundation. Unlike Buffett Senior, Howard is a farmer. He does not believe it is sensible to try to recreate the US model of farming on the African continent, as he explains in the interview below, from 2011.
Howard Buffett: Farming and finance
CBS, 11 Dec 2011
[Video and transcript at the link above]
* Warren Buffett has chosen his son Howard to succeed him as chairman of his multibillion dollar holding company. But Howie, a farmer, is no chip off the old block
Warren Buffett was famously reluctant to give his money away to charity.
[Warren with Bill Gates: I'm turning it over to you...]
So it came as a big surprise five years ago when he donated the vast bulk of his fortune - some $31 billion - to the Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates: It's a real challenge to make sure his money gets used in the right way.
Bill Gates is often described as Warren's "third son." They vacation together, spend their birthdays together. So the size of his gift to Gates left an impression that the Buffett children were given short shrift.
Stahl: Warren Buffett doesn't believe in inherited wealth?
Warren: I don't believe in lots of inherited wealth. I haven't been spending my life trying to figure out how to transfer wealth and not have taxes and all of that so there can be a dynasty of all kinds of little Buffetts going around for hundreds of years never having to do anything.
But don't cry for those little Buffetts. Howard, his brother Peter, and sister Susan have gotten multimillion dollar gifts of money and Berkshire Hathaway stock from their parents. So while he's not on the Fortune 500, Howard is by any measure a wealthy man.
On top of the outright gifts, each Buffett child is getting a billion dollars to go towards their philanthropy. But all that pales next to the $31 billion that's going to the Gates Foundation.
Stahl: So did you know, as far back as you can remember, that you were not gonna inherit his money?
Howard: Yeah, yeah.
Stahl: -- the bulk of it? You've sort of always known that as you were growing up?
Howard: Yeah Yeah... And from time to time, that was a little frustrating.
Stahl: Because you wanted it or what do you mean?
Howard: Well, I just mean you feel like, that there are a lot of things you could do if you had more money. And I think that way, even in the foundation.
But here's the irony: Bill Gates is spending a huge chunk of Warren Buffett's money on poor farmers in Africa, giving them hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizers. It's exactly the kind of hi-tech approach Howard tried and now feels is doomed to fail with farmers who make barely a dollar a day.
Howard: They're pushing a system that really is similar to what we have outside this door.
Stahl: But doesn't -- isn't that wonderful?
Howard: No. What I would argue is that at some point those guys are going to go home and the money's gonna not be there. It's exactly the same thing we did, and I don't think it worked.
Stahl: Well, you know Bill Gates. Have you said to him, 'Eighty percent of what you're throwing down there in Africa is not going to work?'
Howard: Well, I said it a little differently, I think. And that is that we need to quit thinking about tryin' to do it like we do it in America.
Bill Gates: Well, Howie's the farmer here. So he can speak with knowledge. I'm the city boy on the panel.
Bill Gates and Howard Buffett were both honored recently at the State Department for their work on combating world hunger; work underwritten in both cases, by the largesse of Warren Buffett.
Stahl: So your father gives all this money to Gates. You come out and tell us what he's doing is all wrong.
Howard: I'm not saying it's all wrong.
Stahl: Well, a lot of it's wrong. Little bit of sibling rivalry there?
Howard: No -- you know, that's why we call him Brother Bill. But -- but -- (chuckle) but —
HOWARD: No, I -- you know what? Bill Gates is the smartest guy in the world next to my dad maybe. I better say that if I'm on tape.