The Last Hunger Season
For African farmers, the “hunger season” marks the time of year after they’ve run out of food from their previous harvest and before the next harvest begins. It can stretch from one month to as many as eight. Africa’s smallholder farmers produce the majority of food in Africa but often don’t grow enough to feed their families year round. 2006 Echoing Green Fellow Andrew Youn launched One Acre Fund to provide these farmers a comprehensive bundle of agricultural, economic, and educational services. In five years of operation, One Acre Fund has grown to serve 130,000 farm families and is more than doubling in size every year. In The Last Hunger Season, journalist and hunger activist Roger Thurow (pictured) chronicles a year in the life of four Kenyan farmers participating in the One Acre Fund, and Echoing Green recently interviewed him about his experience.
Q: What attracted you to work with a social entrepreneur and innovator like Andrew Youn?
When I first met Andrew, in the middle of a Chicago snowstorm, I recognized his passion, for it was also mine. I felt we were kindred spirits. We both believed that long-term agricultural development (rather than food aid) was the best way to end hunger, and that smallholder farmers needed to be at the center of these efforts. For both of us, the phrase "hungry farmers" was an absurd oxymoron, and "hunger season" an unacceptable condition of rural African life. When Andrew told me, "I really believe that agriculture is the fundamental humanitarian challenge of our time," I knew he and One Acre Fund would be ideal for the book's narrative.
I was particularly interesed in working with a social entrepreneur and innovator because I wanted to capture the new thinking that is emerging—and that is needed—on the agricultural development front. I wanted someone who was challenging long-held beliefs and doing things that few organizations had dared to try. My idea was to follow a group of farmers who were moving forward with new ideas and new impulses. I wanted to show the potential of smallholder farmers. Andrew and One Acre became the prism through which I could view—and illustrate and explain—the issues and challenges and possibilities of agricultural development. I also believed a social entrepreneur would have the ambition and idealism to think big, which is certainly what Andrew is doing.
Q: What do you see as the biggest obstacles to ending hunger in Africa?
Short-sighted thinking that ignores the importance of long-term agricultural development is one of the greatest obstacles. Budget cuts that indiscriminately reduce foreign aid and fail to deliver on promises already made to increase spending on agricultural development are another. But perhaps most importantly is the kind of thinking that says the smallholder farmers in Africa are too poor, too remote and too insignificant to matter. That has been the mantra behind the neglect for the past four decades. It is a mantra recited by their own government and rich world governments alike as well as large and small development institutions. It has left the farmers behind and given rise to that horrible oxymoron “hungry farmers.” We simply cannot continue in that kind of narrow thinking.
Q: What action do you hope readers of the book will take to drive sustainable social change in food security?
We all need to raise the clamor that a hunger season is unacceptable and needs to be eliminated. And we all should support and encourage efforts to realize sustainable change. I hope readers are inspired to advocate for this change, to push their representatives in Congress to support efforts like President Obama's Feed the Future and to protect agricultural development programs from the budget cutters. I hope readers urge the presidential candidates to assert American leadership on the food security front. And I hope they all spread the word—about the book, about agricultural development, and about the potential of smallholder farmers to help us achieve the common challenge we all share: nearly doubling global food production by the year 2050. I hope they all look at their own lives and their skills and ask, "What can I do to help make this the last hunger season." And I hope they embrace one of the key messages of the book: If these smallholder farmers succeed, so might we all.
Echoing Green Live
May 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Fellows in Brief, May 2013
May 22, 2013 at 09:02 AM
echoinggreen: Thanks to @NatOperaCenter for being such great hosts for #EG2013Fellowship & #BMAFellowship Finalist Interviews! http://t.co/paKq59w5l4
May 18, 2013 at 02:33 PM
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May 21, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Congrats to everyone on the Public Interest Design 100, including EG supported...