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The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  665 ratings  ·  93 reviews
At 4:00 am, Leonida Wanyama lit a lantern in her house made of sticks and mud. She was up long before the sun to begin her farm work, as usual. But this would be no ordinary day, this second Friday of the new year. This was the day Leonida and a group of smallholder farmers in western Kenya would begin their exodus, as she said, “from misery to Canaan,” the land of milk an ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 29th 2012 by PublicAffairs
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Roger Thurow's "The Last Hunger Season" is a book that will change your world view, and challenge your thinking and perceptions in terms of the factors that contribute to global poverty and world hunger.

Following up on his book "Enough: Why the World's Poor Starve in the Age of Plenty," "The Last Hunger Season" chronicles the stories of four African small-holder farmers, Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah and Francis. Living in the Western world, it is almost impossible to fully-comprehend the challenges
Dylan Groves
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
mountains beyond mountains, one acre fund edition. the m+e person in me is very skeptical.

three takeaways:

1 - pretty much no agriculture sector anywhere, but especially africa, can survive without sustained external support (technological innovation, agricultural extension training, fertilizer inputs, subsidized insurance)

2 - the real price of food insecurity is in the way it deforms long-term planning (agricultural investments, education, health), recreating itself in the long term.

3 - one acre
A very frustrating read. Thurow does an excellent job of mapping out the problems and challenges (exhausted seed, poor cropping techniques, disastrous storage practices and supply and demand crisis linked to African government's inaction, perverse "anti-poor" policies and the criminal failure of agriculture departments to deliver extensions support despite growing budgets). The book maps out the complex and daunting challenges facing African families operating within the "subsistence" paradigm b ...more
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Being from the farm, I found Roger Thurow’s book, The Last Hunger Season, to be a challenge for every human being to help out their ‘neighbor’ to eliminate hunger. In our world of plenty, no one should be going hungry or be starving to death. Yet as our world grows in population, there is a need to increase productivity worldwide.

Through the brain-child operation, One Acre Fund, administered by Andrew Youn, a social entrepreneur who was earning his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season. One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision. Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes. Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.

Every once i
Sharman Russell
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this book while I was in Malawi this October as part of my research into childhood malnutrition. I recommend this to readers who are not studying childhood malnutrition—most people, I assume—but who just want to know what life is like for subsistence farmers in Africa. And maybe you don’t know yet that you want to learn what that life is like…but now that you think about it…isn’t that why we read? To live different lives? This author goes through a year with four or five families, using t ...more
On occasion there comes a book that you read and want to clap for the author and those involved in the book. This is one of those books that needs applause. I don't often become enthralled with a non fiction work, but this one captured my interest from the cover.

Why aren't farmers in Africa being given the basic tools and education on how to work their land? That has always been a question of mine. Why are we giving them food rather than teaching them better ways of growing their own food? One
Kylee Pedersen
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Bought this book because I am writing my thesis on a similar topic - was pretty unimpressed. Paints the US and business-as-usual development as the hero, the Kenyan government and “Africa” (as it is often referred to in the book) as backwards and the Kenyan farmers as passive victims. Does not account for the impact of climate change in the region. Reads more like some good content for the NGO that gave the author access - note that no failed cases are considered.
Johnna Sturgeon
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
This book highlights a fantastic example of economic development that works by coming alongside those struggling for a better life instead of deciding for them what they should do. According to Thurow, the received "wisdom" of African development has long been that the small farmers (who naturally make up the great majority of the African population) should have no place in the developing economy. Rather, small farmers should be converted into factory laborers and large-scale farming operations ...more
Social  Good Moms
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One does not have to be a wonk to understand the intricacies of global hunger as many might suspect. Roger Thurow, a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former Wall Street Journal correspondent, proved in The Last Hunger Season that chronic, perpetual, and essentially senseless hunger in Kenya can easily be understood by anyone who reads this book. This less academic approach to analysing hunger helps put this worldwide problem on the ...more
Ann Littlewood
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book provides a compelling account of life as a smallholder farmer in Kenya and the work of One Acre Fund and other organizations to improve the lot of these farmers. How do you feed a family of seven on one acre? These vivid stories of several families describe how they are squeezed on all sides--vulnerable to weather, desperate to pay school fees to lift their children out of poverty, forced to sell their harvest when prices are low and to buy food when prices are high.

These are people l
AJ Payne
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I may be a little biased in loving this book because it holds some nostalgia for me. I finished my master's degree, which included working with some women's groups and teaching at schools where subsistence farming and learning how to provide for a family through farming was what the people did, in the area where this story takes place. So, it holds a special place for me.

But beyond that, this is a fantastic look into what life is like for subsistence farmers. The absolute cycle of poverty where
Binit Agrawal
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is a must-read for anyone wanting to get an insight into the struggles of an average farming family in a third world country. The author very craftily breaks down the year in the life of an African farming family into 7 different phases. He then goes on to tell us about the struggles and choices the family has to make in each of these seasons. While doing this, the author also introduces us to the activities of a social enterprise, One Acre, which has been praised for its work across developi ...more
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the true story of four smallholder farmers in Kenya who participate in an agricultural training program that helps increase their crop yields and promises to help them fight the hunger season in future years. Reading this made me long to go help in this work. Andrew Youn, founder of One Acre Fund, developed this program that lends seed and fertilizer to the farmers and teaches them how to maximize yield. Having enough food to feed their own families plus surplus to help with financial em ...more
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a really good introduction to the work that One Acre Fund does and I'm happy to have learned about the organization. It ends up feeling a bit one-sided because you don't hear too much about all the things that could potentially go wrong, but you hear some pretty amazing stories about these small Kenyan farmers trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. The book was written very recently, but already One Acre has expanded in size and it would be great to continue hear ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I almost didn’t finish the book because it’s practically a 300-page pyramid-scheme brochure for One Acre Fund. One Acre is a well-meaning nonprofit that has good, sustainable efforts, but it felt like I was being advertised to the entire time, which was completely off-putting. But by chapter 3, it lays off a little and really gets into the challenges for the farmers, which is enlightening.

I paired this book with Women Who Dig by Trina Moyles, a book that chronicles the lives of struggling women
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
This is a great story following four Kenyan farmers who participated in the One Acre Fund's education and loan program to dramatically increase their maize yields. Over the course of year, you get a good sense of their lives—of course, it is mostly mundane details, but so different from my own life that they are fascinating. In particular, Thurow describes the challenges the farmers face, including weather, fluctuating maize prices, high school fees, malaria and other medical problems. That they ...more
May 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
A shill for the development agency One Acre focusing on the everyday decision making that smallholder farmers do to balance food needs, education and healthcare, and investing for the future. As someone who worked in food aid for the briefest of times I bristled at the author's statement that no other aid agencies were focused on the distribution of seeds and fertilizers (rather than simply handing out bags of USA-grown food.) Sure, some agencies do food relief but to say that One Acre is the on ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I saw Roger Thurow speak at the Chicago Council's annual global food symposium in 2018 and I was really looking forward to his account of One Acre Fund's start in Kenya. It was an organization and a mission that I admired. The book was a quick and easy read and I enjoyed learning about the lives of the specific farmers he profiled. However, his writing style makes it clear that he was a journalist. There isn't a lot of analysis or complexity to what he presents because of his effort to tell the ...more
Alice Zhang
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although there wasn’t a strong story arc, The Last Hunger Season gives an incredible glimpse into the daily struggles of a group of Kenyan farmers as they fight through the “wanjala,” the hunger season. It’s incredible to see the level on which NGOs like One Acre Fund work in providing access to hybrid seeds/fertilizer etc & agricultural training to give farmers (often women) the ability to rise out of hunger and also educate their kids to stop the cycle of poverty. Really eye-opening book for t ...more
Stephanie McMillan
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me of my experience in Uganda and conversations with small-holder farmers there. The women in the book were strong, capable and focused on bettering their families livelihoods. Each woman was focused on the importance of obtaining education for their children and believed education to be the path out of poverty. This book served as a reminder of the importance of investing in small-holder farmers with technology and credit rather than food aid.
Courtney Clark
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look into the lives of smallholder farmers in Kenya. Thurow gives a platform for their voices to be heard, for them to tell the rest of the world about their dreams, challenges, and successes. He deftly weaves these narratives with a higher level exploration of governments’ agricultural and foreign aid policies and notes the impact of climate change on the stability of the farmers livelihood. Highly recommend.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having just returned from Zambia and Zimbabwe this book hit home. Kenya is not the only country with small hold farmers struggling to survive. It was encouraging that help was offered. They have a very difficult life and I'm amazed at their tenacity and the goals of education and caring for family. ...more
Lia Hulit
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this before my OAF interview. First, the org does really admirable work.. I appreciate how Thurow's interviews and human stories compliment the larger picture and what One Acre Fund is doing with farming in Africa. ...more
Alex Telfar
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: not-at-library
I really enjoyed this! This is a book about 'wanjala', the hunger season in Kenya. How can farmers of maize, be net buyers of maize? How can farmers be starving? These are the questions that the One Acre Fund are solving. They provide micro credit, insurance, education, fertilizer and technology (seeds).

Some thoughts here;
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved learning about agricultural development to end poverty for small farmers - loved that it’s told through the perspective of the four families. I’m excited to read more about One Acre and other NGOs working to empower small farmers.
Pat Mills
Seems more important than just a 4 rating. This is a "poverty cure" type of book. The real work that changes lives. What researchers refer to as getting poor people on the first rung of the ladder - not starving part time and therefore at a deficit for life. ...more
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was so fascinating. I read it for a class but gained a deep passion for the issue of hunger among subsistence farmers. I strongly recommend for anyone who is interested in sustainability in agriculture or eliminating hunger and poverty.
Aug 11, 2019 marked it as to-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Entropic Pedro
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Love the attention to culture and lifestyle
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