Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: The Last Hunger Season

The Last Hunger Season. Roger Thurow. 2012. PublicAffairs. 304 pages.

The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow is an interesting nonfiction book focusing on the work of the One Acre Fund in several villages in Kenya. One Acre Fund works with small-holder farmers. (While some farm one acre; many of the farmers chronicled in this book, farm half an acre.) Farmers purchase seeds and fertilizer from One Acre Fund, and they are taught and trained to farm efficiently. For example, they are taught to plant in straight lines, to put one seed per hole, to plant each seed a set distance apart. The seeds provided are of 'better' quality and yield higher harvests.

While it's true much of this one focuses on agriculture, on farming, it is equally true that it is about poverty in general, about the cycle of poverty. It is about families having to make difficult choices on how to spend what money they do have. Is it more important to buy food for the family, or to pay for your child's education, or to pay for medicine and medical treatment for your family? Is it more important to invest in the future or in the present? What is the wisest use of your money? Do you spend your money on cows, goats, sheep, chickens, hoping that you'll be able to get your money back with eggs, milk, selling offspring? When do you sell your harvest? Do you sell at harvest time when the price is lowest but the need for money is greatest? Or do you hold out and try to wait for higher prices?

The Last Hunger Season is about politics and economics and the philosophies behind foreign aid. I was slightly confused at times by this one. Though it could be me misunderstanding what the book actually says. But at times I thought the book was wanting to challenge people to change the way they think about "helping" Africa. Advocating organizations that teach and instruct and enable people to take care of themselves, to become independent and able to provide for themselves and their families, to break the cycle of poverty, to NOT be so dependent on foreign aid or foreign charity. That it was "better" that  the participants think of this as a true loan--something that they will be responsible for paying back, that the money they borrow to farm the land is a debt to be repaid. That it would be better to teach Kenyans how to feed Kenyans than to rely on foreign countries providing food--importing food. That it would be better for the future, better for everyone, if small-holders in Africa were enabled to really, truly farm. But at the same time, the book let its politics be known. (Let's just say that Republicans aren't treated kindly.)

This one was way too political for me. I did not care for some aspects of it.

I did find one aspect of it very fascinating, however. Education. The fundamental importance of education. How people view education as being the one thing that can save the future, the one thing they can put their hope in. Displaying the sacrificial love required to invest in the education of children.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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