book review: The Last Hunger Season

Title: The Last Hunger Season: A Year In An African Farm Community On The Brink of Change

Author: Roger Thurow

Publisher: Public Affairs Books & The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Complimentary Copy received by: B&B Media Group

Rating: A+

“A world where more than one billion people suffer from hunger is not a strong or stable world. A world where more than two billion people in rural areas struggle to secure a livelihood is not a balanced one.”   ~ U.S. treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner (pg 15) 

In the hunger season, life was stripped down to the essentials of survival. Tea for breakfast, nothing for lunch, tea for dinner and always the question, ‘will we eat?’” (pg 118)

Comparing [MRI] scans [of malnourished children] with children who had been properly nourished … the brain size of the chronically malnourished child seemed to be smaller, with severely impaired neuron development. ‘Clear in those images,’ [Rajiv] Shah noted, ‘is the stark and permanent loss of individual human potential. We could begin to understand that a child suffering from malnutrition at a young age has diminished her lifelong potential before the majority of her life has even begun.”   ~ Rajiv Shah, United States Agency for international Development (pg 156)

“We want them to be empowered to change their own lives, through their own work, not through handouts.”  ~ Andrew Youn, founder One Acre Fund (pg 57)

My Review

First, an apology to the publisher, Public Affairs, and the B&B Media Group for this long overdue post! (*Sorry*) In all honesty, The Last Hunger Season is not a book that can be read in one afternoon; at least not for me anyway. The subject matter is too important to gloss over. The hardships encountered by each farming family demands the reader’s full attention, requires thoughtful engagement of the socio-political factors perpetuating global hunger, and, most importantly, compels a degree of internal wrestling.

In The Last Hunger Season: A Year In An African Farm Community On The Brink Of Change, author Roger Thurow follows the ups-and-downs of four families living in the Lugulu Hills of western Kenya. With intimate transparency the reader is given full access to the lives of Leonida (and Peter) Wanyama, Zipporah (and Sanet) Biketi, Rasoa (and Cyrus) Wasike, and Francis (and Mary) Wamati as they relinquish all they know of traditional farming methods and adopt the practices and principles of the One Acre Fund smallholder farming program for a season. With high expectations, each family hopes the yield will be enough to provide a profit to support school fees for their children and carry them through the wanjala–the hunger season. Testing every ounce of patience, fortitude, and commitment, the conditions endured are harsh, bleak, and daunting … that is until the maize begins to grow!

Through the numerous trials encountered by the members of the Lutacho Once Acre cooperative, Thurow weaves a thoughtful exploration of the social, cultural, and political factors lending to the perpetuation of global hunger. The reader is presented with disheartening statistics related to world hunger and the myriad of financial, political, and environmental challenges facing smallholder farmers. While the hardships seem hopeless and unbearable, there is optimism in the form of people such as Andrew Youn, founder of the One Acre Fund. (Andrew Youn, by the way, is my newfound hero.) God bless Andrew Youn for his compassion toward others. God bless Andrew Youn for his vision to provide simple yet effective tools that transform lives (and livelihoods!) thus giving those caught in the bottom billion the ability to reach the next rung on the economic ladder. God bless Andrew Youn for giving up what certainly would have been a lucrative career path in an effort to remain true to the passion that sparked a flame inside: to partner with people in tangible ways that empower and equip for self-sustainability. May Andrew Youn serve as an example to youth and adults everywhere that one person can make a difference!

What Thurow so beautifully captures in The Last Hunger Season is the ability of the human spirit to persevere and the power of community to bridge the chasm between despair and hope. The Last Hunger Season is a touching and gritty celebration of the human will and triumph of the spirit. The wanjala–the hunger season–is long, hard, and taxing. Great sacrifices are made. Overwhelming losses are experienced. The rhythm of life centers on the dance between hunger, food, and finances. The result: many hard choices are made. Families sell what little possessions (or food or livestock) they have to cover medical costs for malaria treatment or educational fees for schooling. I found myself asking over and over and over again, “How much pressure can one family bear?” “How many hardships and setbacks can one family endure?” What I learned from the difficult choices made by Leonida, Zipporah, Rasoa, and Francis, is that when you are stripped of all luxury and denied all accoutrements that make up the American lifestyle of excess, the heart of what is real and true and most valuable stands out: faith, community, and family. What I take away from The Last Hunger Season is the affirmation that the human spirit is capable of enduring great trials and conquering difficult challenges when hope, encouragement, faith, and community align.

My advice, run to get your copy of The Last Hunger Season today!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via B&B Media in exchange for an honest review.

Book & Author Bio

Could four Kenyan farmers working on one acre each mark the end to global hunger?

Roger Thurow’s new book reveals the reasons why they might.

It is called the Hunger Season, and in Africa, it is defined as the time when food from the last harvest runs out until the next harvest is ready.  It is a season with no set boundaries or specifics. It may last one month or as many as nine. Each year, countless smallholder farmers in Africa must endure this onerous period that is ironically forced into repetitive cycles of hunger, not by drought or corruption, but by the growing season itself.

In his latest book, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community On the Brink of Change (Public Affairs Books, May 29, 2012) award-winning author and global hunger activist Roger Thurow explores this annual plight, chronicling the profound challenges faced by four Kenyan farmers from January through December 2011 as they endeavor to escape the poverty to which time-worn and traditional planting methods have held them bound.  With the assistance of a non-governmental funding program offering credit for quality seeds, fertilizers, tools and training, the farmers view the year as an exodus that will lift them from the Egypt of misery into the Canaan land of milk and honey.

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 http://www.WeHaveDecided.org., Thurow’s blog http://GlobalFoodForThought.typepad.com or www.TheLastHungerSeason.com

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