December 18, 2014 | By Roger Thurow

A Christmas Miracle—Almost

The Last Hunger Season Film Series

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the House,
Optimism was stirring
Of more food for good health.

The House of Representatives had brought us to the edge of a Christmas miracle by passing legislation giving statutory authorization to Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative to reduce global hunger through agricultural development. The Global Food Security Act had been bottled up for nearly six years, a captive of Washington’s polarized politics. On the ground in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, millions of smallholder farmers and their families—ironically, the hungriest people on the planet—were benefiting from increased investments in their work; Feed the Future was swinging the aid pendulum away from feeding the hungry with emergency food aid to long-term agricultural development aid that creates the conditions for the hungry to grow more food to feed themselves. (See how agriculture development benefits smallholder farmers in Africa, and the entire global food chain, in this Last Hunger Season short-film series).

Still, Feed the Future’s own future has been in constant peril, under threat from tight budgets, cuts to foreign aid, and political paralysis. The prospect for Feed the Future becoming a permanent part of America’s good work abroad has often looked bleak.

Then last week, members of the House—rallied by a gang of dogged supporters of agriculture development and, perhaps, moved by the spirit of the holiday season—embraced the legislation with rare bipartisan support. Next up to complete this Christmas miracle would be the Senate, where another group of dogged supporters had kept a fire burning for Feed the Future. Momentum for action on food security grew when the Senate followed another House move and approved the Water for the World Act. That bill builds upon the Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which was championed by the late Senator Paul Simon to make access to safe drinking water and sanitation a priority of American foreign policy. Since water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) go hand-in-hand with abundant, nutritious food in the assault on world hunger, it seemed that adoption of the Global Food Security Act would naturally follow.

But, alas, political strategizing on the extent of compromise in this lame duck Congress intervened, and the clock ran out on Senate action for this year. Global food security would have to wait for the New Year, and the new Congress.

For Congress to not establish Feed the Future as a pillar of American policy (as it had for President George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR) would be to ignore the gathering momentum worldwide to end hunger. In the past couple of months, conferences in New Delhi, New York, Addis Ababa, and Rome, and a multi-city launch of a first-ever Global Nutrition Report, have given food and nutrition security a prominence that won’t go away.

In New York, dozens of university presidents gathered at the United Nations under the banner of Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH). They committed their schools to doing what they can to end hunger: spreading knowledge, generating research, inspiring the leaders of the future. In Delhi, a Together for Nutrition conference rallied all sectors of Indian society to attack malnutrition in a country with the highest numbers of undernourished and stunted children. The Global Nutrition Report was a heads-up to the entire world. The report highlighted the benefits of ending hunger—particularly the “hidden-hunger” of micronutrient deficiency—and noted the costs of inaction, not only in the developing world but in the rich world as well, as the ever-widening obesity problem weighs on economies. It clearly outlined the globalization of malnourishment; how a malnourished child—whether stunted or obese—in one part of the world is a malnourished child everywhere.

We are seeing a swelling outrage that the ancient affliction of hunger and child stunting remains with us in the second decade of the 21st Century. Even Pope Francis sounded the alarm when he spoke at the International Conference on Nutrition in Rome in November. We should be “scandalized” that hunger persists today, he said. He added that food, nutrition, and the environment should be viewed as global public issues at a time when the nations of the world are linked together more tightly than ever before.

“When solidarity is lacking in one country, it’s felt around the world,” Pope Francis said.

Global solidarity on ending hunger would indeed be a miraculous development. When Congress reconvenes in the New Year, it will be time to finish the work left undone.


| By Roger Thurow

African Farmers: Surviving or Thriving?

It is one of Africa’s cruelest ironies that as the planting season begins, as it is now across much of the continent, so does the hunger season. The food stocks from the previous harvest are running low and it will be several months before the next harvest comes in. Whatever food remains in the household is rationed: portions shrink, meals are skipped, malnutrition rises.

| By Roger Thurow

Relief to Resilience

There is little mail service in rural Africa, so the smallholder farmers there wouldn’t have received last week’s annual letter of U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah.  But they certainly would welcome his words.

| By Roger Thurow

Developments at the Development Bank

I’m surprised that “surprise” is a word being used to describe President Obama’s nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank.  Surprise, perhaps, over the specific name, because Dr. Kim hadn’t figured prominently in the speculation of who would replace current World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

| By Roger Thurow

The Rising Power of Women Farmers

The most common tool in African agriculture is also the most impractical.  Or at least it appears to be.  It is the hoe, which is used for plowing, planting, weeding and harvesting.  It is a simple tool that produces the majority of the continent’s food, and yet it has remained unchanged over the centuries, defying any technological advance.

| By Roger Thurow

Looking Back, Moving Forward

At President Obama’s first international summit, the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy in July 2009, he rallied his fellow rich world leaders to commit to investing $22 billion to conquer global hunger through agricultural development.  He spoke passionately about both the moral obligation and the global security imperative of ending hunger and the despair and hopelessness such deep poverty breeds.

| By Roger Thurow

Mr. Xi Goes to Iowa

Those were interesting photos from the dusty archives that appeared in various newspapers and TV reports this week, pictures of a visitor from China inspecting hogs, vegetable farms and grain processing facilities in Iowa back in 1985.  It became downright fascinating when it turned out that visitor, Xi Jinping, was now returning to the U.S., and to Iowa, as the vice president of China.  Oh, and he is presumed to be China’s next president.

| By Roger Thurow

Global Collaboration

At the foot of Mount Kenya, a patch of maize stalks are defying the odds.  They are standing tall and robust in a trial field where the soil had been intentionally depleted of nitrogen, one of the essential nutrients for maize.

| By Roger Thurow

Learning by Doing

Learning by doing is the philosophy of the Pan-American agricultural school known as Zamorano in Honduras.  Students come to class every day dressed in their uniform of blue jeans and blue shirt.  They come to work, not just to study; more often than not, their classrooms are the fields and the food production plants on campus.  They plant seeds and pull weeds and milk cows and nurture fish and make ice cream and inseminate queen bees.

| By Roger Thurow


A not so funny thing happened on the way to the G20 meeting in Cannes last week.

| By Roger Thurow

The Right Vote

We’ll keep this short:

“Vote for the Appropriations Committee recommendation for foreign operations and against any cuts that would hurt hungry and poor people.”

| By Roger Thurow

Girls Grow

The teenagers of rural western Kenya I have met during the past year have no shortage of ambition.  Especially the girls.  They want to be doctors and nurses and teachers and lawyers and pilots.




Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »


Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »