With the good weather upon us, I’m sure that many of you are out working in your gardens. I’m pulling lots of weeds that did very well with the rain and sunshine, but lamenting that a lot of my vegetables didn’t get a good start this year. Even if my garden doesn’t produce well, however, I can always buy food at the store ensuring that I won’t go hungry.
This is in stark contrast to the situation described in the book I just read, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow. The Last Hunger Season is the story of families that do go hungry if their garden doesn’t grow, no matter how much strenuous work they put into it. If their home-grown food runs out, they go through a hunger season while they wait for the next harvest. The irony is that the hunger season comes after the crops have been planted, and hopefully those plants are thriving, but before the crops have matured enough to eat.
The majority of farmers in Kenya are small-scale farmers, most with an acre or less to farm. They struggle to keep their children in school, because they realize that education may be the only way to ease their poverty. For most, the choice becomes attempting to feed their family or paying school fees. Unfortunately, many of the children are not in school for parts of the year because of unpaid school fees, and their families are also hungry.
One Acre Fund, a non-profit company, works in Kenya with the mission of helping small farmers with all aspects of farming. They provide farming education first, because many African countries have not had any sort of “master gardener” aid aimed at small shareholders. Loans are provided to purchase seed and fertilizer, which are also made available through the organization, farming practices are taught, and storage systems are developed. A lot of the grains grown are eaten by weevils or go moldy during storage, so efficient small-scale storage systems are important. Unfortunately not much development has been done in this area because you can’t run a company by marketing to impoverished people. One Acre Fund is funding and encouraging research into storage systems, as well as improving seeds and fertilizer for African farmers.
The Last Hunger Season follows four families as they begin their planting season with the aid and backing of One Acre Fund. Their goals are so basic: to feed their families and educate their children. Even the poorest of Americans seems wealthy compared to these families. If you are a gardener, some of the practices the Kenyan farmers employ may seem contrary to what we practice here in the Northwest. As the book progresses, however, you come to find that the growing conditions in Africa are quite a bit different from ours.
The biggest difference, of course, is that the Kenyan families will starve if they can’t get their farm to produce. They simply don’t have the luxury of experimentation on their own. The book follows the families through to their harvests and beyond, into what would normally be their next hunger season. If you read this book you will learn quite a bit about a world totally different from ours. A world that many of us could not imagine living in, yet at its’ core is very similar to our own.