Friday, July 20, 2012

The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow

Thurow had been a reporter at the Wall Street Journal for 30 years. For 20 of those years he was a foreign correspondent based in Europe and Africa. While covering the famine in Ethiopia in 2003 he looked into the eyes of the starving and committed himself to doing what he could to end global hunger.
He and a colleague, Scott Kilman, began collaborating on a series of articles on the African famine. They then wrote Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, released in 2009. “Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the world was producing – and wasting – more food than ever before?” (xv)
In 2010, Thurow resigned his position with the Wall Street Journal and accepted a post as Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Thurow was invited to Africa by Andrew Youn to see the work of the One Acre Fund, the organization Youn founded. The Last Hunger Season is a record of his experience at the hardscabble homesteads of western Kenya.
He calls it a paradoxical region of breath taking beauty and overwhelming misery. The smallholder farmers, tending fewer than five acres of land, have been largely ignored by the international community, the government, and the private sector.
Thurow has a way of writing so that you feel like you are sharing the experiences of the Africans. You meet families living in mud-and-sticks shacks that were supposed to be temporary. You feel the struggle of parents having to choose between keeping enough maize to feed the family all year long or sell it to pay for their child's education. Praying for rain, seeing the rain come, vital to keeping the crops growing. But then seeing a child with malaria from mosquitoes bred in the rainwater. Treating the malaria with what little money there was to feed the family until the next harvest. Some days, a weak tea was the only food a family would have.
African soils are some of the poorest in the world. The One Acre Fund is helping the struggling farmers with hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and training in planting, weeding, and storing the maize. The program is having an impact as the farmers reap harvests large enough to see them through the hunger season, sometimes with money left over for education or other improvements. This plan goes beyond the Band-Aid approach of food aid. Instead, it is farm aid, long term, building agricultural sustainability.

Reading this book is certainly an eye opening experience. Reading of the hunger the smallholder farmers experience is heart breaking. Reading about the attempts of some in the U. S. Congress to curtail the foreign aid programs helping the African farmers is maddening.
Thurow reminds us that Africa is crucial for the world's future food supply. The smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of the continent's food, are indispensable for the future. His experience shows the need to invest in long-term agricultural development in Africa.

Go to the author's blog here

Watch a video about the book here

Public Affairs Books, 273 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from The B & B Media Group for the purpose of this review.

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