Howard G. Buffett Wants an Overhaul of U.S. Food Aid. Here's Why

Food security is Howard G. Buffett's big issue, so it's no surprise that he's taken a keen interest in U.S. food aid to poor countries. Buffett doesn't like what he sees, and his foundation has been working to change the outdated ways that the U.S. government distributes food aid. 

The United States established the Food for Peace Program (referred to as P.L. 480) in 1954, and that law still largely governs how the U.S. tackles hunger abroad. But the current system isn't working so well for a bunch of reasons. 

Cost increases in shipping, transportation, and commodities in general, have contributed to a 50 percent drop in food aid getting to the people who need it. What's more, funding for food aid has dropped by nearly 40 percent since its peak in 2009. To do better, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, along with the ONE Campaign, are calling on the U.S. government to overhaul how it does food aid.

The details are complicated, and you can dive into them by checking out a report the two groups released, Food Aid Reform. But the bottom line is that Buffett wants to change how the U.S. sells surplus commodities on international markets, find ways to deliver food faster (and from local sources), and scrap the costly and dated rules governing the transport of food aid (which say that 50 percent of aid has to be shipped on U.S. flag vessels.) 

Make all these changes, Buffett believes, and the United States could get a lot more bang out of the buck for its spending on food aid. If the U.S. then walled off food aid from budget cuts and even increased outlays, which the Buffett Foundation also wants, it could have an even bigger impact on people's lives. 

While the foundation is very clear about the reforms that it would like to see to U.S. food aid, it's less clear what its grantmaking strategy is for moving this agenda. The foundation has backed One at a high level, but it otherwise hasn't put much money, that we can see, into the kinds of policy and advocacy work that could help achieve what's obviously a very heavy lift in terms of changing how the U.S. government operates. 

Certainly, the foundation has the funds if it wants to go big with advocacy and policy work. The total amount of money that Warren Buffett has pledged to Howard's foundation now exceeds $3 billion, and Howard has said that he intends to spend it all by 2045.