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Buffett drafts farmers to fight hunger

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 10/26/2012 @ 1:14pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

"Farmers are in the front line against hunger," Howard G. Buffett told 600 participants today at the sixth Iowa Hunger Summit in Des Moines, Iowa. “Hunger in the U.S. Is hidden behind closed doors,” he said.

In his keynote address, Buffett shared his efforts to alleviate hunger through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, founded in 1999. He also stated that since he launched the Foundation, he’s come to realize that more needs to be done to address the issue of hunger in the United States.

The Iowa Hunger Summit, organized by the World Food Prize, brings together community, business and civic leaders united by the fight against hunger -- at home and abroad. The World Food Prize Symposium is October 17-19 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Buffett has been a featured speaker at the Summit for three years. He operates a farm in Illinois, manages a family farm in Nebraska, and oversees a Foundation-operated research farm in South Africa.

“It’s the first time I’ve been here that I’ve been done with harvest,” he said. “Of course, the reason is that some fields only yielded 25 bushels per acre.”

Buffett stated that reducing hunger Is critical because 60% of hunger in Africa is linked to armed conflicts. He said that immigrants risk their lives to come to the U.S. so they can send money for food back to their families. He added that hunger also is detrimental  to school children who can’t concentrate because they’re hungry.

He noted that 21 million in the U.S. receive free and reduced school lunches, and that this number is up 17% since 2007.

Buffett, an accomplished photographer, used wide-screen displays at the front of the room to take the audience “on a trip around the world” through his photos of people in third-world countries.

“These are the faces of hunger,” he said. “We’ve tried to reach them, but we can’t reach all of them. They fade away and become statistics.”

Buffett said, “I used to think that if we produced more crops, then we’d be able to feed more people. That is one component of it, but that’s not the solution. Hunger is much more complex.”

He noted that Fresno County, California, is a top-producer of agricultural products. “In Africa, 15 countries combined don’t equal the production of Fresno County,” he said.

He also noted that Fresno County ranks second in a measure of food hardship in the U.S. “Twenty-five percent of people in the county are hungry,” he said.

In the U.S., an estimated 50 million people are hungry.

“In a country where we spend 6% of our disposable income on food, one-sixth of our population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Buffet says. “How can this be true? There’s a huge disconnect.”

Buffett said that these statistics on hunger are personal for him. He recounted stories of some of these people he’s met in the U.S.

He mentioned the World War II veteran who only had a box of Cheerios in his cupboard. The veteran died a few months after their first meeting. “I can guarantee you that Everett died hungry,” he says.

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