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. Led by a non-governmental funding program that offers credit for quality seeds, fertilizers, tools and training, the farmers view the year as an exodus that will lift them from the Eygpt 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 just a kind of background noise or scenery. Then came the famine in Ethiopia in 2003. On my first day in Ethiopia I was meeting with the World Food Program to get background information and I 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 going all the way back to my childhood when I was first 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 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 determined my soul was more diseased than ever. I needed to spend all my time and energy as a journalist focusing on world hunger, raising the clamor, raising awareness of this problem. So after thirty
years, I left the Wall Street Journal, joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and basically have 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. or Thurow’s blog http://GlobalFoodForThought.typepad.com