[Book Review] The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow


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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One does not have to be a wonk to understand the intricacies of global hunger as many might suspect. Roger Thurow, a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former Wall Street Journal correspondent, proved in The Last Hunger Season that chronic, perpetual, and essentially senseless hunger in Kenya can easily be understood by anyone who reads this book. This less academic approach to analysing hunger helps put this worldwide problem on the agenda not only for those who work in the field of hunger relief, but also for those who care about people who do not have enough food to eat.

Roger Thurow
Roger Thurow (Photo credit: ONE Fr)

Thurow follows the lives of four smallholder women farmers in Kenya and writes in clear detail about the struggles these women and their families endure during the annual “wanjala” or hunger season. Each year these farmers must grow enough food to sell and consume and also navigate the volatile food markets during the recent economic crises where food prices have been high, but selling prices have been lower than usual. What you will find in The Last Hunger Season is despite these women’s hard work and dedication to their small farm plots economic, food and health struggles perpetually stand at their doorstep, and yet their hope, while wavering at times, is never broken.

One of the underlying themes in The Last Hunger Season is the dedication these women have for the future; that despite their current circumstances they forge every way possible for a better future not only for themselves, but for their children. These women understand that the only way out of the subsistence, smallholder farmer cycle of poverty is through education. By making sacrifices (even going without food and relying on black tea for meals) it ensures that at least one child in the family can work a job in an urban setting and lift the entire family out of poverty. It is, at times, difficult to read that some of the women would pay school fees instead of feeding their families even when their younger children are failing to thrive from malnutrition. However, the future to these women is brighter than filling their bellies and the bellies of their children.

It is important to note that the One Acre Fund, an NGO that helps small subsistence farmers yield larger crops through better seeds, fertilizers, education and working in cooperatives, is featured throughout the book. It is through the One Acre Fund that these women farmers are able to provide a better living for their families by producing more maize largely, but also growing other crops like beans. Larger crops means more food to sale at market prices and it also means more food to eat.

The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change is a optimal starting point for students and hunger advocates – both professional and lay – to better understand the hunger season in Africa and throughout the world and the importance of better agricultural techniques to a brighter and more productive future for these subsistence farmers.
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