The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

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Overview

At 4:00 am, Leonida Wanyama lit a lantern in her house made of sticks and mud. She was up long before the sun to begin her farm work, as usual. But this would be no ordinary day, this second Friday of the new year. This was the day Leonida and a group of smallholder farmers in western Kenya would begin their exodus, as she said, “from misery to Canaan,” the land of milk and honey.
Africa’s smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, know misery. They toil in a time warp, living...

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The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

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Overview

At 4:00 am, Leonida Wanyama lit a lantern in her house made of sticks and mud. She was up long before the sun to begin her farm work, as usual. But this would be no ordinary day, this second Friday of the new year. This was the day Leonida and a group of smallholder farmers in western Kenya would begin their exodus, as she said, “from misery to Canaan,” the land of milk and honey.
Africa’s smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, know misery. They toil in a time warp, living and working essentially as their forebears did a century ago. With tired seeds, meager soil nutrition, primitive storage facilities, wretched roads, and no capital or credit, they harvest less than one-quarter the yields of Western farmers. The romantic ideal of African farmers––rural villagers in touch with nature, tending bucolic fields––is in reality a horror scene of malnourished children, backbreaking manual work, and profound hopelessness. Growing food is their driving preoccupation, and still they don’t have enough to feed their families throughout the year. The wanjala––the annual hunger season that can stretch from one month to as many as eight or nine––abides.
But in January 2011, Leonida and her neighbors came together and took the enormous risk of trying to change their lives. Award-winning author and world hunger activist Roger Thurow spent a year with four of them––Leonida Wanyama, Rasoa Wasike, Francis Mamati, and Zipporah Biketi––to intimately chronicle their efforts. In The Last Hunger Season, he illuminates the profound challenges these farmers and their families face, and follows them through the seasons to see whether, with a little bit of help from a new social enterprise organization called One Acre Fund, they might transcend lives of dire poverty and hunger.
The daily dramas of the farmers’ lives unfold against the backdrop of a looming global challenge: to feed a growing population, world food production must nearly double by 2050. If these farmers succeed, so might we all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this empathetic and eye-opening account, former Wall Street Journal reporter Thurow (coauthor, Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty) focuses on a group of smallholder farmers in western Kenya, "a paradoxical region of breathtaking beauty and overwhelming misery." Lacking modern farming equipment and valuable fertilizers, these farmers struggle to feed their families throughout the year and produce enough crops to bring in money to send their children to school, believing that "education was the surest route out of poverty." However, even these humble goals are often too lofty to achieve. Instead, growers must stretch dwindling food supplies across the gap between harvests, a period known as the "wanjala," or hunger season. In chronicling the plight of these farmers, Thurow also discusses the efforts of the One Acre Fund, a relatively new organization founded by Andrew Youn whose aim is to provide farmers with "access to the seeds and soil nutrients and planting advice" that would normally be unavailable to them. By documenting their collaboration, Thurow paints a sobering but ultimately hopeful picture of a continuing food crisis in Africa and some of the things people are doing to mitigate it. B&W photos. (May)
From the Publisher

The Washington Post
"[A] warmly human account."

The National
“To understand their lives, the author … takes us deep inside the smallholder's struggle…. Thurow has us hanging on the dramatic tensions affecting all four families: one finds the calf they'd depended on to cover future educational fees has died… Where Thurow is most effective is the interplay he weaves between hunger and policy - or its absence… Readers of The Last Hunger Season will find themselves getting caught up in these dilemmas, then breathing a sigh of relief to learn that the farmers Thurow followed in 2011 enjoyed reasonably good yields that year - seven to 20 bags of harvested maize apiece - thanks to One Acre's seeds and training.”
 

Publishers Weekly
“Empathetic and eye-opening…. Thurow paints a sobering but ultimately hopeful picture of a continuing food crisis in Africa and some of the things people are doing to mitigate it.”
 

Beliefnet
“Awe-inspiring . . . A well-told story of scarcity and hope.”

Financial Times
“Part of the beauty of this book is that it is not the story of foreign aid workers. Nor indeed does the author, a former Wall Street Journal reporter with decades’ experience of writing about Africa and agriculture, intrude. Rather it is the tale of villagers such as Wanyama who is grappling with dilemmas familiar to millions of rural and indeed urban Africans: whether to devote scant money to health, education for the children, or food…. This book shows us why history does not have to repeat itself."

Weekender
“The Last Hunger Season is as much a look at the distortions of agricultural development in Africa as it is a gritty underdog tale of hope and survival. The issue of malnutrition and hunger in children and adults living in impoverished conditions is a vast one. But Thurow does a good job not only touching on those problems but also deeply exploring the trials and tribulations associated with farming in Kenya. His voice is even-keeled, hopeful and respectful, and it’s almost impossible for the reader to not be personally impacted by the stories he tells.”

Melinda Gates, Impatient Optimist“At our foundation, the team that works in agriculture thinks a lot about the following contradiction: We are aiming to improve the lives of farmers in very poor countries, but we live and work far away in a very rich country. How can we—from an office building in Seattle—actually understand the aspirations of farmers in, say, Kenya? I just read a book called The Last Hunger Season that I believe gets me a little bit closer to understanding…. I loved the book.”

Kirkus Reviews
Toiling one step ahead of famine: a firsthand chronicle of a year in the life of small farmers in Kenya. As a senior fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Thurow (co-author, Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, 2009) traveled to Kenya at the invitation of the American social enterprise One Acre Fund in order to help often-neglected small farmers gain access to the technology and knowledge that would allow them to avoid the famines that have typically plagued the African regions. Rural Africa, long a "nightmarish landscape of neglect," underutilized and undercultivated, might offer the hope of feeding the burgeoning future population of the world--but only if its resources can be ecologically harnessed and its small farmers trained to use the land wisely, according to the Obama Administration's Feed the Future initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations. Under the auspices of One Acre, Thurow worked with cooperatives in Lutacho, in the same Lugulu Hills of western Kenya made famous by Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa. Of the 100 or so farmers in the area (overall, One Acre worked with 50,000 farmers in western Kenya and Rwanda), more than two-thirds were women who had to put aside traditional farming methods and learn the "Obama method," as the One Acre field officers called it, capitalizing on the American president's family ties to the region. As they trusted the new hybrid seeds of maize and learned how to weed, use fertilizer, buy on credit and sell on the commodities market, farmers like Leonida and Rasoa were seeing greater yields and learning how to plan for times of scarcity. Thurow's account is a seasonal diary, moving from the dry season at the New Year through the planting; he recounts the wait for rains and the harvest and the successes and failures of a handful of tenacious family farmers. A business-based approach that redefines the notion of food aid to Africa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610392402
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/14/2013
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 260,545
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Thurow is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He was, for thirty years, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal.    He is, with Scott Kilman, the author of Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, which won the Harry Chapin Why Hunger book award and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award. He is a 2009 recipient of the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award. He lives near Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Maps viii

Prologue xi

1 Simiyu (The Dry Season) 1

2 Masambu (Preparing the Land) 37

3 Wafula (The Rains) 69

4 Wanjala (The Hunger) 117

5 Wekesa (The Harvest) 169

6 Sirumbi (Second Planting) 205

7 Sikuku (Festival Days) 251

Acknowledgments 263

Index 267

Photographs follow page 116

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 23, 2012

    Most of us only know the story of hunger, food production and li

    Most of us only know the story of hunger, food production and life in Africa through dense reports from government agencies or think tanks, or via heart-tugging fundraising letters from charities. In THE LAST HUNGER SEASON, Roger Thurow does a masterful job of telling the stories of real people, struggling against formidable odds, embracing change so that their children can live better lives. Thurow, who is a journalist's journalist, chronicles the lives of familes in rural Kenya and how they adopt new farming methods so that they can avoid the "hunger season" deprivations that are common. The books shows how the combination of people's determination, with the help of US foreign aid and highly effective US nonprofits, can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Clear-eyed, unsentimental and honest, this book is must reading for anyone who cares about Africa, ending poverty and a more just world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2014

    Amazing Read

    This book gives amazing insight on how we can help small holder farmers and make a large difference in Africa.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    Grateful

    Teaches me to be grateful cause the people dont even have food and i complain about how fish sandwiches taste too much like fish

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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