My Moment of Great Disruption
Roger Thurow, senior fellow with the Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative, gave a TEDxChange talk in Seattle on April 3. He recounts his experiences in Ethiopia during the famine and explains why the international community needs to invest in smallholder farmers.
Good work, now keep going.
As the rainy season arrived and the planting began in East Africa at the end of March, drought and hunger continued to creep across West Africa. The African Paradox of feast and famine was forming again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A not so funny thing happened on the way to the G20 meeting in Cannes last week.
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.”
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.
Norman Borlaug and Wangari Maathai were two unlikely Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
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.
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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?
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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.
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