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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Case study of how to empower African farmers
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...
Published on May 29, 2012 by John Coonrod

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rare Access to Lives of Rural Farmers but Don't Expect a Policy Discussion
The strength of this book is the rare access the author gets to the lives of the rural poor. Beyond just recounting the challenges of the farmers, the author is able to present a picture of the thoughts and worries they face each day. The farmers are humanized, rather than just treated as victims.

The weakness is that the book doesn't get much beyond the basics...
Published 1 month ago by Keyon Dupre


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Case study of how to empower African farmers, May 29, 2012
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This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
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.

Thurow writes in a clear, journalistic, page-turning style. This is the kind of book you will want to give to your friends who have had no real exposure to the realities of life in rural Africa, and the heartbreaking choices families must constantly make between buying food or paying school fees or paying for malaria medications.
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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
This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teaching How to Farm in Kenya, October 4, 2012
This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
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.

Thurow's book is a heart-wrenching book of failed procedures, disease ravaged areas, and starvation while surplus food was only miles away. But as the subtitle suggests, these smallholder farmers were on the brink of change. Hope abounded, but the setbacks cut deep at times. They learned by trial and error.

The challenges of the seed providers were astronomical. What would work in one area of Kenya didn't in another because of the weather patterns. I found this so intriguing and frustrating all at the same time. It takes many varieties of seeds to work in the multiple areas.

I truly enjoyed Thurow's organized reporting for the book. He lays out the different seasons as described by the Kenyans, helping you to comprehend the enormity of the situation. But you don't have to come from a farm to be concerned with the issues of hunger and poor farm management. Just imagine your own family going through starvation months, and you can empathize with these farmers and be willing to be involved in your own way.

I applaud the Obama administration in their efforts to help these Kenyan smallholder farmers, where Obama's father grew up. But President Obama's desire to go down in history for these achievements should not take precedence over the people of the United States, as this is the country he is President of. The same goes to China's willingness to provide great financial assistance to Kenya's farmers, but they ignore the Dalits in their own backyard. I also believe Kenya's government should be held more accountable to providing assistance to their people instead of holding on to their wealth and ignoring their own fellow countrymen, leaving them for other countries to help. They are issues that were overlooked in the book that I felt should have been addressed. I also felt the book was politically polarizing instead or working with both sides to come to an agreement. I find that the opposition for an agenda has many sides, which didn't seem to be addressed or considered.

Barring my concerns, this is an insightful, excellent read to understand the plight of starving farmers-to spur others to get involved and help their `neighbors.'

This book was provided by Diane Morrow of the B & B Media Group in exchange for my honest review. No monetary compensation was exchanged.
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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
This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Will Change Your World View, June 10, 2012
Roger Thurow's "The Last Hunger Season" is a book that will change your world view, and challenge your thinking and perceptions in terms of the factors that contribute to global poverty and world hunger.

Following up on his book "Enough: Why the World's Poor Starve in the Age of Plenty," "The Last Hunger Season" chronicles the stories of four African small-holder farmers, Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah and Francis. Living in the Western world, it is almost impossible to fully-comprehend the challenges that these farmers face, if not for Thurow's book, which artfully weaves the personal stories of the four farmers as they struggle through a year of change, with anecdotes on changes in the international political climate that have local ramifications for the farmers.

As I read Thurow's book, while the stories of Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah and Francis were difficult and heart-breaking at times, I felt compelled to keep reading and developed a deep sense of admiration for their strength and commitment to doing whatever it takes to ensure a better life for themselves and their families in the future, even if it means starvation in the near-term.

One of the things that I have come to admire so much about African women, in particular, is their commitment to educating their children. Here in the U.S., and living an an area known for its affluence and excellent public schools, I feel that we often take education for granted, as most people don't have to make such extreme sacrifices to educate there children. If we did have to make such sacrifices, would we value education more?

One other aspect of Thurow's book that helped to enlighten me and broaden my perspective was the reality of how quickly fortunes can change on an African farm.

For many years, small-holder farms have struggled in soil preparation, finding strong and viable seeds that will withstand weather and other factors, harvesting and preparing crops for market, getting the right price for their crops, and having enough crops left over after sale to feed their families through the dry season. These farmers face so many challenges - weather, disease, bugs that eat their crops, and even theft. And that is all crop-related. Family health issues such as malaria, and the high cost of schooling can cause them to sell their crops at a lower price, just to get the capital needed to pay off their debts. Many farmers will resort to selling livestock too, just to raise much-needed capital.

A small NGO, One Acre Fund, is currently working to provide these small-holder farmers with the seeds, tools and knowledge they need to successfully move from subsistence farming to income-generating farming. In the "Last Hunger Season" Thurow highlights the impact that One Acre Fund has had on the farms of Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah and Francis. I found the success, albeit limited in some cases, is a step in the right direction, and look forward to learning more about One Acre Funds efforts and future successes.

I highly recommend "The Last Hunger Season" and I am confident that anyone who reads this book will come away enlightened and with a different world view of why hunger and poverty still remain so prevalent in some parts of the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rare Access to Lives of Rural Farmers but Don't Expect a Policy Discussion, May 25, 2014
The strength of this book is the rare access the author gets to the lives of the rural poor. Beyond just recounting the challenges of the farmers, the author is able to present a picture of the thoughts and worries they face each day. The farmers are humanized, rather than just treated as victims.

The weakness is that the book doesn't get much beyond the basics of the farmer's lives. One Acre Fund, an NGO the farmers work with, is presented as the answer to every prayer. Questions like, "why is the Kenyan government not paying for this intervention," "is One Acre Fund's NGO approach inhibiting private sector led efforts," and "can One Acre Fund really scale to a meaningful level?" are not addressed. Also, there are parallels drawn between the local farmers and struggles about the foreign aid budget in the US Congress, but the connection is barely drawn. Toward the end we learn that One Acre Fund receives some funding from the US government, but it's a few million dollars, which is relatively minor. How effective is the rest of the US government's one billion dollar "Feed the Future" budget.

Despite a superficial treatment of larger policy questions, the book is worth the read to get a better sense of the day-to-day concerns of some of the poorest people in the world.

One additional note, the title seems to be a bit wishful thinking at this point. It would be more accurate to put a question mark at the end of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, a simultaneously inspiring and frustrating perspective on escaping hunger and poverty in Africa., January 30, 2014
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This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
I'd recently finished Thurow's other book, Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, and was fascinated. I was pleased to find out that he had another book that continued on the same themes from Enough. The Last Hunger Season does not disappoint in any way. To be clear, you do not have to have read the first one to read this one, but it is helpful for gaining some additional context.

There are several things that I really liked about this book. For one, it is very well written. The stories of the four families come alive through their daily routines. You will find yourself pulling for the spring rains to arrive right along with them, cheering at their successes, and expressing frustration at their unforeseen problems. I also found the book pervaded by a deep sense of optimism. Certainly, a farmer in Africa has some very real challenges (including, but not limited to, bad governance at the country level, uncertain weather conditions, poor market data, infrastructure problems, etc.), but by the end of the book, you are left with an overarching excitement for the future. This excitement is in part due to the efforts of a business Thurow highlights, The One Acre Fund, that provides education, seeds, fertilizer, and expertise to communities of farmers. They (One Acre), in providing a consistent product (seeds, fertilizer, etc) at a manageable price, empower hundreds of farmers, and as the book illustrates, begins to radically change their lives.

So why should you read this book? It will give you a much greater appreciation for the challenges African farmers face and how both individuals and business and aid entities are finding innovative ways to meet and defeat those challenges. It will also make you want to get involved, to add your voice to theirs in wanting better and more solutions; you will be frustrated at the slow-moving bureaucracy of the seed companies, and at the typical NGO that stays in the larger cities rather than going out where the people are, and at the lack of safety nets others take for granted (like crop insurance, etc).

Thurow has given us a window into the life of a farmer in Africa, documenting a change sweeping four families lives. It is a powerful book. Read it and then pass it on!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breaking the poverty cycle, May 28, 2013
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A brilliant book which highlights issues of and solutions to hunger and poverty amongst subsistence farmers in West Kenya. It follows a year in the lives of 4 families and how an aid organisation, OneAcre, changed their outlooks and lives with the prospect of breaking the poverty cycle. Uplifting in the hope it gives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opening Hearts and Minds, October 27, 2012
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This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
In follow up to the award winning 'Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty', 'The Last Hunger Season' takes us on a journey through the eyes and lives of four families battling to escape the spiraling grip of the wanjala - the hunger season, in western Ethiopia, 2011. Spending a year on the ground with them, Roger Thurow chronicles the fragile existence of Africa's smallholder farmers through the inspiring stories of the Wanyama, Wasike, Mamati and Biketi families, and their struggles to balance the immediate needs of eating and health, with the dream of educating their children as a permanent solution to chronic hunger.

In 'The Last Hunger Season', Thurow portrays the real-life impacts of the issues he and Kilman elaborated on in 'Enough': How the policies and actions of the world's governments, largely result in the chronic hunger of nearly one billion people. The ironies of farmers starving and countries dependent on international food aid, while stores of locally grown food rot in nearby warehouses. There is hope, though.

The incredible work of the One Acre Fund is interwoven into each family's story. Bringing farming best practices and discipline through an innovative microcredit-based program to the needy, One Acre is serving as a critical link to permanently escaping the wanjala for small farmers across Africa and soon everywhere, hopefully. Recognized as a Top 100 NGO by the Global Journal and included on the Forbes Impact 30 list, in a short 5 years, One Acre has grown to serve over 130,000 families, including 520,000 children, increasing take-home farm income by nearly 100% per acre. Again referencing the lessons of `Enough', One Acre is a superior example of an NGO doing it right: Always putting their constituents first and working with them on-the-ground, hand-in-hand to improve and make a difference every day!

As an advocate for women's rights and advancement, the mothers of `The Last Hunger Season' particularly stood out to me as true heroines. In many cases, as heads of households, they were regularly put in agonizing situations requiring decisions and actions that literally determined whether their children would live or die. Decisions that most in the world fear even contemplating, were frequent for the families of `The Last Hunger Season'. Their stories wrenching, their belief in a better tomorrow, never-give-up attitude and efforts, incredibly inspiring.

Can our generation be the one to finally end the scourge of hunger? Start with `The Last Hunger Season'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intimate, detailed book on hunger's impact on farmers in East Africa, August 2, 2012
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This review is from: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change (Hardcover)
I heard Thurow speak in DC about his book and his experiences in East Africa so I decided to get a copy of his book on my kindle. I started reading the book and I could not put it down. This book is not a theoretical declaration or criticism of economic approaches; instead, it is a much needed firsthand account of what it means to be a poor farmer in East Africa. Thurow masterfully shares the struggles of the farmers by using intriguing stories and he uses interesting words like "hungry farmer" and "sustenance to sustainable farming." Thurow's stories are so sad that they can be difficult to read but he does not leave the reader without hope. The author also presents anecdotes of the One Acre Fund's work, both successes and failures, to alleviate the hunger in the region. The book contains stories that will change the way you perceive foreign aid and the way you view your next meal. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in hunger, poverty, international affairs, public policy, etc.
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