Speaking in Des Moines recently, farmer/philanthropist Howard Buffett challenged all farmers in America to donate the profits from at least 1 acre of their 2012 harvest to their local food banks in an effort to help eradicate hunger nationwide. Buffett was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Iowa Hunger Summit held October 16.
Buffett, the son of Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffett, pushed for the donations during his speech. Buffett's private foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, has partnered with agricultural companies ADM and Monsanto and the hunger-fighting charity Feeding America to create the Invest an Acre program. "One bushel of corn can help secure 18 meals, and a bushel of soybeans can secure up to 40 meals," Buffett said. "Monsanto has agreed to match each donation one-to-one."
Buffett, who is 55 years old, owns farmland in Nebraska, Illinois, Arizona and South Africa. This year's event was the 6th annual Iowa Hunger Summit, a gathering of over 600 people from across the state and some from outside Iowa, too. They met to discuss hunger issues in Iowa and share with each other what their organization or community is doing to help fight hunger. People who attend the event represent churches, food banks, agencies, companies and other organizations. Individuals, including farmers who are involved in these efforts in their communities, also attended the day-long meeting.
Monsanto will match contributions of farmers dollar-for-dollar to support local food banks
The Hunger Summit is one of several events sponsored by the World Food Prize Foundation which take place during the week of the annual World Food Prize symposium, held each year in mid-October in Des Moines. The symposium is a gathering of over 1,400 people from 65 nations who come to Iowa to attend seminars and discuss food and agriculture-related issues.
In keeping with the company's commitment to sustainable agriculture and improving lives, Monsanto Company is partnering in Invest an Acre, which is focused on addressing rural hunger in America. "In partnership with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Feeding America and Archer Daniels Midland Company Monsanto is proud to be the first seed company to join the program and match the contributions of U.S. farmers who are working to fight hunger in their own communities," said Jerry Steiner, Monsanto's executive vice president of sustainability and corporate affairs.
The Invest an Acre program is the first effort of its kind to mobilize farmers, agri-business and a nonprofit on a national scale to support rural hunger relief. Through the program, participating farmers can go to an ADM elevator to invest a portion of the proceeds from their harvest to support their local food bank connected with Feeding America. Monsanto is supporting Invest an Acre through a $3 million contribution, in which the company will match the contributions of U.S. farmers, dollar for dollar.
Without support of farmers, meeting the needs of a hungry world wouldn't be possible
"We are proud to support this program and dedicated to reducing hunger in our rural communities," said Steiner. "Monsanto is strongly committed to farmers and their communities. Without the support of farmers and their efforts to feed a growing population, meeting the needs of the hungry would not be possible."
Even though America's farmers are among the most productive and efficient in the world, hunger is still a significant problem in America, noted Steiner. Nearly 15% of all rural households are regularly without food – that's around 3 million households in the very communities where much of the world's food supply is raised. In addition, one out of every six people goes hungry regularly in the United States.
In addition to the $3 million commitment, Monsanto employees around the country are volunteering at their local food pantry during November and February. More than 70 Monsanto sites have pledged to volunteer at local food banks and assist their communities in feeding the hungry.
Howard Buffett challenged farmers to return an acre's profit to help fight hunger
Buffett sincerely believes the Invest an Acre program can make a significant difference. "It's a difficult year to start this program," he acknowledged in his speech to the Des Moines gathering, referring to the on-going drought in Iowa and the Corn Belt. "But we have faith. We've already collected enough to provide over a million meals and that's before the Monsanto match. So we're getting there."
Buffett also challenged charitable organizations to set time limits on their hunger-fighting efforts. Too often, he said, nongovernment organizations become heavy with bureaucracy and become concerned with sustaining their existence rather than defeating the problems they were created to combat.
"You really have about 40 years to accomplish your goals," he said. "What if every non-government organization set a limit of 40 years? Wouldn't their mindset be a little different? Wouldn't there perhaps be a little more urgency to their actions?" Buffet said his own foundation will cease to exist on December 31, 2045.
He also challenged charitable organizations to "get the job done" in fighting hunger
Buffett decided his own foundation should focus all of its energy, talent, money and lessons learned—"whatever we have to contribute, we should focus it all in a way that makes us realize that every year counts. It counts because we know we are going out of business. We've got to get the job done. We don't have the luxury of continuing forever." Buffett said when an organization continues in perpetuity it "sends a message that we can't complete our goals. It says we can't defeat hunger. If we are really going to do the good deed that we want to accomplish, shouldn't we expect more of ourselves?"
Buffett's Foundation has spent over $300 million fighting hunger worldwide, but only in the last few years did he begin to understand the problem of hunger in America. He began his charitable foundation with the idea that increasing production of crops and livestock in poor nations would solve the hunger problem. "But we found out hunger is a real problem in some of the most productive farm communities in the world."
Hunger exists in some of the most productive farming communities in the world
Earlier this year Buffett visited Fresno County, Calif. which produced $5.3 billion worth of agricultural products several years ago. But that county, in that same year, ranked near the top on the list of counties in the U.S. where people go hungry, with 25% of its residents considered to be food insecure. "That means the people don't know where their next meal is coming from," said Buffett.
He pointed out that America spends the lowest percentage of its annual income on food, on average for the entire country, of anywhere in the world. But it has one-sixth of its population that is food insecure. "How can that be in this land of plenty?" he asked. "Almost 50 million people in America are food insecure and nearly a quarter of U.S. children go to bed hungry."
Monsanto is a consistent supporter of America's farmers and addressing the nation's hunger problem, said Steiner. For the past three years, the company has held dedicated food drives to support area food banks during the Farm Progress Show in Iowa and the show in Illinois and Husker Harvest Days in Nebraska. These food drives have generated approximately 80,000 pounds of food for families in need. In addition, through Monsanto's America's Farmers Grow Communities program, Monsanto has provided farmer recipients with more than $300,000 that has gone towards more than 120 food banks and food pantries within rural communities. You can find out more about Monsanto's commitment to fighting rural hunger at Monsanto.com.