Book Review: Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World

It's been awhile since I've used a highlighter to mark sentences in a book that I'll want to read again. My preview copy of Howard G. Buffett's book, Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World — released today — now has a lot of yellow highlights.

Throughout this book, I have found a kindred spirit in Buffett, someone with both a passion for farming and a desire to improve the lives of people around the world living in extreme poverty.

From when a farmer takes over a family farm to when he or she retires, there are typically 40 growing seasons — meaning 40 opportunities to improve the harvest. It's a concept Buffet heard while attending planter’s school at a tractor dealership near his Illinois farm.

Extending this premise that each of us has 40 chances to accomplish our life's goals, Buffett takes the reader on a vivid walk through his farming experiences and international travels with his philanthropic foundation, addressing issues of food insecurity and global hunger along the way.

The book has five parts and 40 chapters, each of which weaves a story-like tapestry of Buffett’s experiences — of farming techniques, labor, politics and infrastructure — as well as those of his son, Howard W. Buffett. These stories all contribute a piece of the puzzle that makes up the challenges of improving food security in the developing world.

To its core, the book is a candid review of international aid and both the problems and help that aid has created. Buffett is critical of both governmental and non-governmental organization (NGO)  policies that undermine food security for the very people they are meant to help.

One such policy allows an NGO to monetize its U.S. food aid, using the resultant cash to pay overhead and salaries, thereby lowering farmers' local market price. One notable statistic Buffett cites: Between 2008 and 2010, NGOs monetized 1.3 million tons of U.S. grown food for cash in 34 different countries, revealing a real need to re-evaluate the detrimental effects of food-aid policies.

Through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the author shares his philosophy of funding philanthropic measures for the greatest impact, with an emphasis on programs and projects that develop the “value chain.” Growing more food isn’t always the main solution to solving food insecurity if, as Buffett states, “there is not always a way to get it to market at a time when it still has value.”

Buffett also paints pictures of other means of lifting people out of poverty: “Improving livelihoods and shoring up infrastructure — everything from roads to electricity to water management — is key to reducing food insecurity.”

Buffett is a great storyteller and a thoughtful philanthropist with a very holistic approach to alleviating global hunger problems. Through his website,, he calls on the reader to become an active participant in his or her area of influence, to be bold in trying new ideas, and to find hope in a hungry world. 

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Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD
Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and farmer in Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read her blog, The Foodie Farmer. Follow her on Twitter.