By Meghan Eldridge
CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico — The face of agriculture research has changed in many
ways since the decades Norman Borlaug worked in the Yaqui Valley of Mexico.
Howard G. Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, sees both negative and positive changes in the focus of agricultural research worldwide since Borlaug’s work in the 1940s to ‘60s, he said.
He believes one thing is of prime importance in the fight against hunger: getting governments to see the value of farmers.
As public funding moves increasingly away from supporting agricultural research, a greater number of private companies spend millions of dollars to fight against hunger. For research and innovative technologies to affect real change in countries outside the U.S., nations need effective policies and governance on and off the farm, Buffett said.
“The easy part is writing the check or giving someone seeds,” he said. “Government has to make agriculture a priority to make real change happen.”
Buffett points to the continent of Africa as an example of a region that requires stronger leadership to improve rates of food security. Many presidents in the region don’t recognize farmers as part of the solution to hunger in their countries, Buffett said.
“Africa has gone backward in terms of malnutrition, not in every country, but until a government says ‘we’re going to make agriculture a priority,’ no change can happen,” he said.
Increasing global food production furthers the need to turn attention to conservation practices to preserve soil and water resources, Buffett said.
“The thing that scares me the most is water, particularly water for agriculture,” he said. “It’s going to be a real crunch point for agriculture.”
The U.S. already has the knowledge necessary to implement conservation practices in agricultural production, but many farmers are reluctant to do so on their own farms because they deviate from traditional practices, he said.
As a research farmer in the U.S. overseeing over 1,400 acres in Arizona, 4,400 acres in Illinois and 9,200 acres in South Africa, Buffett puts his belief in conservation into practice. He’s implemented no–till agriculture for 20 years, using principles that maintain soil nutrients and limit erosion.
Trying to change human behavior is a challenge since many farmers have grown crops in the same ways for generations, he said.
“It’s not rocket science; it’s human behavior,” Buffett said.