Warren Buffett's son helps Colombia kick cocaine curse
Philanthropist with a cause- Howard Buffett
But he's spent much of his adult life roving the world taking wildlife photos and writing books. He's also a corn farmer and made headlines in 2017 by briefly serving as the sheriff of Macon County, Illinois, where he lives and his foundation is based.
He began exploring the world as a teenager on a trip to Soviet-controlled Prague in 1969 to visit one of the many exchange students his mother hosted at their home in Omaha, Nebraska. But his love of travel hasn't been matched by culinary curiosity: In Catatumbo, he carried around a blue, insulated lunch pack containing his requisite PB&J sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.
Treading on a dangerous territory
Waiting under a tin-roofed shack is a small group of coca farmers. They've never heard of multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffett, but after decades of neglect by their own government they're grateful for the outstretched hand of his eldest son, who they refer to simply as ``the gringo.''
``There's a saying here: The less you know, the better,`` said Ruben Morantes, his leathery skin and calloused hands a testament to a lifetime of tillage in one of Colombia's most-dangerous territories, where outsiders are traditionally mistrusted.
Buffett's pledge to redeem Colombia
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has committed to spending $200 million over the next few years to transform the impoverished municipality into a model of comprehensive state building. Plans include strengthening security forces and helping farmers secure land titles and substitute coca _ the raw material for cocaine _ with licit crops like cacao.
In the image: View of the forest fire started after authorities found and burned a laboratory for cocaine process in Guasca, Colombia.
The focal point
Tibu has the second largest coca crop in all of Colombia _ 28,200 acres (11,400 hectares), according to the United Nations. Drug production as well as violence has skyrocketed in the area since armed groups filled the void left by retreating rebels who signed a peace deal with the government in 2016.
In the image: Howard Buffett, left, talks to Colombia's President Ivan Duque aboard an air force plane before departing from Bogota
Providing a viable market, a challenge
``The only way we have confidence that farmers can grow legal crops is if they can get those crops to market,'' Buffett told farmers during a visit last month with Duque to La Gabarra, a rural outpost in Tibu. It was the first time any Colombian president had visited the blood-soaked hamlet.
The plan envisions subsidies and training for farmers as they switch crops, as well as helping them find buyers. It also aims to strengthen infrastructure for local law enforcement.
In the image: Authorities found and burned a laboratory for cocaine process in Guasca, Colombia
More than a decade-long service
Leveraging his business contacts, he established a program to help around 100 families in southern Colombia switch from growing coca to producing high-quality coffee for Nespresso.
While an enthusiastic supporter of the 2016 peace deal, he has nonetheless struck a close relationship with Duque, a law-and-order conservative who has vowed to slash cocaine production in half by the end of 2023. But reaching that goal requires huge resources the government doesn't have, as well as overcoming the indifference of urban voters who are removed from the conflict and have their own growing list of demands.
That's where Buffett steps in.
Money for a cause
Beyond the big check, long-time partners praise the Buffett Foundation for being independent and nimble. It's funded from an annual gift in Berkshire Hathaway stock by Warren Buffett, so it can take risks few are willing to attempt, development experts say.