Friday, July 20, 2012

The Last Hunger Season

A year ago, we began this crazy journey to Africa and back, twice. It has been a year that has changed me to my very core.  It has challenged how I feel about myself. It has challenged how I feel about my community. It has challenged how I feel about government. It has challenged how I feel about missions. It has challenged how I feel about my faith.

I'm a woman obsessed.

So when I was asked to review a book about smallholder farmers in Western Kenya, I found I couldn't say no.

The Last Hunger Season chronicles a year in a farming community under the influence of an apparently new group called One Acre. Having myself witnessed what 10 years under World Vision can do for a community and also having visited a Hope Chest school, I feel like I have enough hooks to hang my information of hand outs vs hand ups upon.

I find myself wanting to review One Acre rather than the book. Maybe that comes from the book being primarily about them. And my personal experiences. I'm FOR micro-loans. I'm FOR training. I'm FOR programs. But  had a hard time swallowing the opening few pages about how the big bad congress took away foreign aid, even if they did. I'm convinced the answer lies not with governement, but with the hearts of people. Politics at this juncture in my life just frustrate me. I'm tired of people blaming the government rather than just stepping up and solving problem on their own. (Sorry, tangent.) After the sluggish opening (for the politically non-inclined), however, The Last Hunger Season is  an interesting look within a program meant to help the small holder farmers in an untapped ag society. (I'm pro-farmer, too, by the way!) If you can shovel through the first bit of foundation laying, and that's only about ten pages, the stories of the farmers as they made hard decisions and suffer the consequences of some of the same decisions, are fascinating. I am hopeful that they figure out storage. (Which is where my desire to review One Acre comes in. I shall leave that to you.)

All in all, this is an interesting read. Particularly for those who live their lives with half their hearts broken for a people half a world away in distance and 100 years behind in farming technique.

But not if One Acre has anything to say about it.

This information came in the review info. I found it mirrored much of where I am (Except Ethiopia, circa 1985, rather than 2003, is permanently tattooed on my brain). It's probably what made me want to read the book, so I'm giving it to you:

Oddly enough, the plight of Africa’s hungry is a topic Thurow never considered until a few short years ago. For the bulk of his writing career, he was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, two thirds of that time spent as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Africa. “Up until about ten years ago,” he explains, “I hadn’t really done much reporting on hunger issues. Hunger was a kind of background noise or scenery until the Ethiopian famine in 2003. On my first day in Ethiopia, I was meeting with the World Food Program to get background information and was given a piece of advice – a warning of sorts – that changed my life. I was told that ‘looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.’”

The next day, as Thurow entered into the hunger zone for the first time and began looking into the eyes of those who were dying, the real meaning of that warning hit home. “I began to ask questions, wanting to know why this was happening ––how this was happening — in the twenty-first century,” he recalls, “and suddenly all other stories began paling in comparison. It wasn’t just what I was seeing all around me, but the things and the beliefs I had grown up with, the memories from my childhood when I was taught that Jesus expected us to feed the hungry and care for the afflicted.

“It seemed we were doing far too little of either,” he remembers.  “Suddenly, hunger became the story I wanted to focus on; to concentrate on. But more importantly, it became what I wanted to stop. I don’t know if it makes sense to anyone or not, but in that moment, I think that is when I knew that ending world hunger was my calling.”

Deciding that his newly diseased soul would not rest until he put everything together in book form, Thurow first collaborated with colleague Scott Kilman to write Enough, Why The World’s Poorest Starve In An Age of Plenty, released in 2009. “The funny thing is,” Thurow explained, “once that book came out, I realized my soul was more diseased than ever. I needed to spend all of my time and energy as a journalist focusing on world hunger, raising awareness of this problem. So after thirty years, I left the Wall Street Journal, joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and basically devoted myself to this one single issue. I believe it is the overriding issue of our time.”

In The Last Hunger Season, Thurow exposes us to the daily drama of these farmers’ lives, allowing us to witness the development of the solution to a looming global challenge. If these four farmers, and the others like them, succeed, it is quite possible that so will we all.

To learn more about The Last Hunger Season and the documentary film it inspired, please visit, Thurow’s blog or

The Last Hunger Season
A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change
But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him,how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.                                                                           

 - 1 John 3:17-18 (NASB)

Public Affairs
May 29, 2012
ISBN 978-1-61039-067-5
304 pages/$26.99

For African farmers, the “hunger season” marks the time of year after they’ve run out of food from their previous harvest and before the next harvest begins.  It can stretch from one month to as many as eight.  And while the term “hungry farmer” should be an oxymoron, the cruel reality is that the poor smallholder farmers who produce the majority of food in Africa often don’t grow enough to feed their families year round.

Africa’s smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, toil in a time warp, liv­ing and working essentially as they did a century ago. Without access to improved seeds, fertilizer, or mechanized equipment; reliant on primitive storage facilities, roads, and markets; lacking capital, cred­it, or insurance; they harvest one-quarter the yields as do farmers in the West, and often up to half of that spoils before getting to market. Their odds for success are very slim; hunger and malnutrition are their greatest miseries.

But in January 2011 one group of farmers in western Kenya decides to take a leap of faith and adopt new farming methods that promise to banish the hunger season. They join the One Acre Fund, an organization that gives them timely access to seeds, soil nutrients, planting advice and financing for the first time.  While drought spreads across Kenya and all of East Africa, these farmers aim to double, triple or quadruple their maize yields.  If they succeed, it will be a life-changing development, giving them the ability to feed their families for the entire year and to perhaps even sell some surplus food to pay school fees for their children.

In THE LAST HUNGER SEASON, award-winning journalist and hunger activist Roger Thurow, co-author of the critically acclaimed book ENOUGH, chronicles a year in the life of these farmers in an intimate narrative—as they go through their initial training meetings, as they pray and wait for rain, as they plant and then suffer through the hunger season, and anticipate the forthcoming harvest. Will they succeed?  Will this be their last hunger season?

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