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

Roger Thurow
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


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.”
“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."

“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.”

About 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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1495 KB
  • Print Length: 307 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1610390679
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007UT29F8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,832 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Case study of how to empower African farmers May 29, 2012
Chicago Council senior fellow and former Wall Street Journal writer Roger Thurow has published a new book that was on sale during the Council's pre-G8 event.

I strongly recommend it. Thurow follows the lives of farm families in Western Kenya throughout the year 2011 as they struggle to overcome hunger. Their productivity is being greatly enhanced through the "One Acre Fund" (<...>) - a social enterprise founded by Andrew Youn, an American son of Korean immigrant parents that now serves 50,000 families.

Youn has been called the "Paul Farmer of Agriculture" - an individual of unyielding persistence as he and his team overcome logistical barriers to deliver improved seeds and fertilizer (on credit), training and farm insurance to farmers throughout his area.

Those working in African development will recognize much of what One Acre Fund does in Kenya: awakening people to a new possibility, training local facilitators, providing skills in row-planting and microdose fertilizer. Many will also recognize that - as impoverished as the Kenyan villages are - farmers have a profound commitment to securing quality secondary education for their children as their highest aspiration.

Like Steinbeck, Thurow follows the experiences of four families as they live through the major phases of the cropping year: the land preparation, the planting, the "hunger season," the harvest, and the second planting. He also neatly folds in the historic events unfolding beyond the villages - the famine in Northern Kenya receiving foreign food aid even as Western Kenya has a bumper harvest it cannot sell, Tony Hall fasting to force Congress to not cut food security funding, and the G8 in Paris giving little priority to food security as the global recession deepens.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and informative on every page May 21, 2012
Global hunger is a tough story to tell. It's complicated, depressing at times and lacks the sort of glitz and celebrity that editors and readers seem to prize these days. So it's great to see a journalist of Roger Thurow's caliber and skill step up to tell the important story of global hunger -- why it exists, how it can be solved and why we can never give up trying. The Last Hunger season chronicles the lives and work of small farmers in Kenya and the steps they take, with the help of an innovative American nonprofit, to grow more food, feed their families three meals a day year-round and make better lives for their children. A natural storyteller, Thurow infuses his book with memorable characters, strong drama and novelistic pacing. You will come away from reading this book with greater knowledge about hunger and solutions, as well as utter awe for the perseverance and resourceful of people who battle tremendous challenges in order to give their children the lives and opportunities that we hope for our own children.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teaching How to Farm in Kenya October 4, 2012
Being from the farm, I found Roger Thurow's book, The Last Hunger Season, to be a challenge for every human being to help out their `neighbor' to eliminate hunger. In our world of plenty, no one should be going hungry or be starving to death. Yet as our world grows in population, there is a need to increase productivity worldwide.

Through the brain-child operation, One Acre Fund, administered by Andrew Youn, a social entrepreneur who was earning his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Kenya's smallholder farmers were taught how to manage and grow bigger and better crops to sustain them through the hunger season. Though Andrew wasn't a farmer, he did know how to manage. In his mind, "The existence of hungry farmers is completely crazy. It's mind-boggling. A hunger season shouldn't exist." I totally agree. It's unbelievable, yet it was happening.

This book is the story of four smallholder farmers that Roger Thurow followed for a year, throughout all the different seasons of farming. It started out as a picture of malnourished children, backbreaking manual labor (mostly done by the women), meager provisions from the crops, the stress of financial concerns for schooling their children, and the mountainous hopelessness of going through the wanjala-a hunger season that could stretch from one month to nine, depending on the year.

With the help of One Acre Fund, they were hoping to overcome the oppressive poverty and hunger. As a former farm girl, it was a thrilling and educational read to see how all the monumental red tape and access to good seed was a constant concern and how One Acre Fund was willing to stay the course, working out problems and issues that arose. Others had tried, failed and left.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars eye opening tear jerker! July 2, 2012
In the book, The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow, we are taken on a journey through the lives of some farmers in Kenya, Africa.

Each one of these farmers were small scale farmers who could barely grow enough crops to survive each season, and many times went without food. In our modern daily lives in richer countries, we cannot fathom really having to decide whether to make a school tuition payment of approx USD of $237 or eating that month. These farmers needed help, and change.

Through One Acre Fund, they are able to get new seeds, fertilizer, and most of all, knowledge of planting, growing and harvesting. They are able to grow more crops, and grow more successfully, providing them the ability to better feed themselves and their families. There are still hurdles to climb over, such as being able to save maize to sell when the prices go up, and make some cash to cover school payments, or to buy an animal. Of course, with the rainy season, there are mosquitos and malaria and medicines will be needed. Having something to sell for money for medicines means the difference between life and death to these people.

This book is an eye opener to seeing beyond our own selfish desires and allowing us to feel others pain. Charting these lives from pure deathly poverty and the fight to survive will show you the heart and faith of the people of Kenya.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read Book for All
After witnessing the irony of 'the hungry farmers' in western Kenya, Andrew Youn, then a MBA student, founded One Acre Fund in 2006 to help the extreme poor farmers, mostly women... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Joseph Y
4.0 out of 5 stars opening the minds
It is very interésting to see how the African farmer is prepared to change for the better with outsider help.
Published 10 days ago by John Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars A real life accounting of another culture
I couldn't put the book down and have recommended it to others. Very well done and compelling. Gives a message.
Published 2 months ago by Stephanie
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, a simultaneously inspiring and frustrating...
I'd recently finished Thurow's other book, Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, and was fascinated. Read more
Published 2 months ago by A. Berke
5.0 out of 5 stars the truth be told!
This is one of the best books I have read that shows hunger and the plight of African farmers and Families from their point of view. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Larry Ronald Herman
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising story of how to change our world.
This was a wonderful story of how a struggling area of the world can be lifted out of poverty with the assistance of others. Read more
Published 3 months ago by carollferguson
5.0 out of 5 stars Inpiring
I would recommend this book to anyone considering agricultural development. It gives the reader insight into the struggle out of poverty, from the farmers's perspective.
Published 5 months ago by Erin
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Hunger Season
Great easy to read book written by a former Wall Street Journalist. Every time I feel like I am having a rough day I can read this book and realize life could be much worse. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Cliff
4.0 out of 5 stars Is there a Last Hunger Season?
It was good to know that it wasn't just a "hand out" but a teaching experience. I admire how people worked together,
Published 6 months ago by meadow
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of the struggles faced by poor families living in rural...
Great overview of life amongst poor families living in rural Africa. Provides good understanding of the struggles these families face every day of their lives in simply trying to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Chris Lavers
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