September 16, 2014 | By Roger Thurow

The Last Hunger Season, Part 1 – The Expanding Possibilities of Family Farmers

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new multi-part film series on Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season. Now through October 16—coinciding with World Food Day 2014—we will be releasing two episodes from the series per week. Part 1 is now available below. See all episodes.

Zipporah Biketi was living in a shrinking world when I first met her back in 2011. Her imagination rarely stretched beyond the boundaries of her small family farm in western Kenya. She could barely think beyond the next hour and the next meal, if there was to be one. She and her family were in the midst of the hunger season – the food from the previous meager harvest had run out and the next harvest was still months away. How could anyone have grand thoughts of thriving when struggling so mightily to merely survive?

Now three years later, Zipporah is thinking big. Her imagination stretches around the world, out into the future, beyond her own farm, beyond the next meal.

She thinks so big, in fact, that she proclaims with confidence that Africa’s family farmers “can feed the world.”

What happened to change Zipporah’s perspective so vastly? In 2011, she finally realized the potential of her small family farm and discovered the possibilities for an entire continent. She had joined a social enterprise organization, One Acre Fund, that was reversing the long-entrenched negligence of Africa’s smallholder farmers; rather than ignoring the farmers as too poor, too remote and too insignificant, One Acre embraced them as worthy customers for the essential elements of farming. With access to better quality seeds, soil nutrients, extension advice and the financing to pay for it all, Zipporah and her husband Sanet multiplied their maize harvest by 10-fold. For the first time, there would be enough food for all for the entire year.

Freed from the confinement of the hunger season, Zipporah and Sanet began planning for the future rather than dreading it. At the end of 2011, with her harvest stored in their bedroom, the Biketis showed me a blueprint of a new house they wanted to build to replace their old house of mud walls and thatched roof that leaked in the rain. Another year and another good harvest later, that house was being built with solid bricks and a metal roof. The next year, Zipporah was mastering diversification, tending all manner of vegetables on her one acre plot and talking about plans to hatch a poultry business. Her four children, so weak when I first met them, were now healthy, robust and doing well in school. Zipporah and Sanet had opened a savings account to ensure there would be enough to send them to high school.

Zipporah is one of the central characters in my book, The Last Hunger Season, along with three fellow farmers in western Kenya: Leonida Wanyama, Rasoa Wasike, and Francis Mamati. They are also at the heart of the United Nations 2014 International Year of Family Farming. For on their farms you can see the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, and the 500 million-plus family farmers around the world. Family farmers already produce the majority of the world’s food – but they can do so much more.

Yes, they can contribute greatly to feeding the world and its increasing population when they have the access to the essential elements of farming and access to storage and markets. And, as I found in western Kenya, they are also diligent stewards of the earth. Their land and their harvests are all they have. The last thing they want to do is to harm that which provides their sustenance, their livelihood, their health, the education for their children.

Investments in these family farmers will unleash the possibilities, as we see with the farmers of The Last Hunger Season.

“You should never neglect the small beginnings of somebody,” Zipporah says, “because with that little knowledge and small start, that somebody can go very far and accomplish things that you cannot believe.”

This was the message of the book, published in 2012. Now, we see it come to life in a series of short films about The Last Hunger Season farmers from filmmakers Josh Courter and Giulia Longo Courter. We hear the farmers’ voices, see their shambas, witness their exodus, as Leonida Wanyama says, from the misery of the hunger season to Canaan, the Promised Land, of improved harvests and better lives.

Beginning with today’s episode – an introduction to the farmers and their role in the global food chain – please watch, enjoy, and spread the message.

This blog post also appeared as a World Food Day Perspectives essay.

Archive



| 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

Sidetracked

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.


Multimedia

Videos


 


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.

Books

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 »

EnoughEnough

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 »