The Last Hunger Season (A book review)

You can buy “The Last Hunger Season” using this link.

How we will be able to explain to children why there used to be hungry people in the world?

People sometimes wonder why God would allow so much suffering in our world. Maybe instead we should be wondering why we do. – Jim Palmer

I started reading this book 8-17-02016 and finished it 8-22-02016. I had found out about it after listening to the TED talk by the founder of One Acre Fund, Andrew Youn.

You can learn more about the organization (and any other charities) via Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator is great for helping you feel at ease donating to various organizations. You can know so much about a group. You can see the salaries of the top paid people. The tax returns of the charities for the past years. Tons of information. Back to the book.

One Acre Fund is a NGO (Non-Government Organization, charity, non-profit) that works with farmers in rural Africa to provide them productive seeds and planting techniques. Most of these farmers plant .5 acres or 1 acre. The “super farmers’ plant 2 acres. The planting is all done by hand. Sometimes they are able to have their fields plowed by an animal but some just work it by hand also.

The book follows the story of several farmers in Kenya through their year of 2011 working with the new techniques and hybrid seeds provided to them by One Acre Fund. It chronicles their lives, planting season, struggles with money to feed their families, keep their kids in school, deal with illnesses and deaths and skipping celebrations because they didn’t have the money for food.

As an engineer I really appreciated how thorough the book was regarding the inputs, costs of seed and fertilizer, and outputs, what the farmers are paid for their harvest. It also chronicles how the cost of food varies by over 100% over the year and how farmers often have to sell early when the price is low and then buy later when it is high, a double whammy to the net worth (or lack of) of the individuals.

Another thing that was astonishing to me was concept of a hunger season, the “wanjala”. Many times they talked about how they would have tea for breakfast and perhaps nothing to eat during the day.

Money was talked about a lot. Always in Kenya Shillings. I found it easiest to approximate 100 shillings = $1. For example, one of the men’s salaries was 1500 shillings a month, or $15 (Page 34). To be fair, it didn’t say how much he worked, but I suspect it was more than 1 hour. They also shared the price of one man’s bean and fertilizer purchase to plant a quarter acre of beans. 1800 schillings, $18. It also records his returns, 158.8 kg x 80 shillings a kg = 12,704 shillings or $127 on an investment of $18, that’s a 700% return! If we could all get that kind of return wouldn’t we be happy? (Page 65).

The tough decisions these people face each day was eye opening. I could feel a little bit of the weight they felt as they were making decisions to sell a bag of rice to buy some medicine to treat a family member. Or the choice to sell a cow to pay for schooling for a child. While I could try to feel the weight, I really couldn’t even fathom it. How does a person in the USA even consider living on a few hundred dollars a year?

Later it discussed the various companies trying to address the challenge of storing the maize and other grains. Since sitting in air it can spoil easily if it gets wet. There are various companies working on plastic storage bins, about 6 ft tall for some of them. That doesn’t seem like a lot of storage but when you are farming an acre it can be huge! Between those companies and One Acre Fund trying to educate on farming techniques and share new seeds, there is really a lot of improvement coming about in a small time in Kenya and other parts of the world.

After I read this book I decided to read one or two reviews of it. One quote I got from this review was “Africa’s future is not as a continent of happy peasants” pointing to the successful Brazilian model – highly mechanized production and greater urbanization is the answer, enabling the children of smallholder farmers to move off the land.”

While I can understand his sentiment I would have to ask him where he thinks these small time farmers will get the money to buy small enough tractors to till 1 acre of land and make it profitable? Where will be the infrastructure to fix the vehicles when they break? I believe that Andrew Youn and One Acre Fund are doing exactly what is right for the right time in history. He is rolling out something that can be implemented immediately to allow the farmers to literally fight off days that would require them to not eat! The farmers are even doing as the writer of the article suggests and investing in their children’s futures. The children already have a brighter (less manual labor and less likelihood of hunger) than their parents and the parents futures look bright because of the kids. It should be unnecessary to mention but I will anyway, most of these people don’t have much put away in terms of money savings. The do talk a lot about diversifying their businesses as far as getting different animals and planting different crops. They are sharp people doing the best with what they have. One Acre Fund is just trying to get them the tools to do even better.

This was my 2nd favorite book I have read in the last 2 years after “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” and I would recommend anyone and everyone reads it.
Bringing this back to my opening quote, I wonder how we will be able to explain to children why there used to be hungry people in the world? I say “used to” because “I really hope I am able to look out my window in 02041 and say “There are no hungry people today.” (based on my post “The Last Hungry Person”)

Here is an article with some information about how farmers partnering with One Acre Fund are doing.

4 thoughts on “The Last Hunger Season (A book review)

  1. Pingback: The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty – A Book Review (of Sorts) | MyWheelLife.com

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