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Guest Lecturer at Lake Forest College Discusses Hunger Among Farmers in Africa

CHICAGO – Farmers in Africa do not have enough food to eat, according to Roger Thurow, a Senior Fellow of Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. In a speech at Lake Forest College Tuesday night, he told the audience that hungry farmers “… ought to be (an) oxymoron” but “…(in fact it) is a truism.”

He explained that in America, “We all have these choices” with regard to what to eat, but in Kenya and other places in Africa they are “restricted by lack of choices.” He states “most of these farmers struggle to feed (their own) family.”

Roger Thurow graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in journalism. He worked for the Wall Street Journal for 30 years, 20 of those years as a foreign correspondent. As a journalist he felt the need to “raise the clamor” about world hunger problems and he became involved in problems facing smallholder farmers.

He recently wrote a book entitled “The Last Hunger Season.”  His speech on Tuesday night was part of the Ruth Winter Lecture series at Lake Forest College.  Thurow spoke to a room filled with students, professors, and community members in the Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel at 7:30 on Tuesday night.

Thurow explained in an interview after the speech that his coverage of the Ethiopian Famine in 2003 moved him to become more involved in hunger problems in the world. He explained that none of his other assignments for the Wall Street Journal could compare with the problems that he witnessed in 2003. During a follow-up phone interview he explained that he traveled to Ethiopia several times where he witnessed dozens of children in emergency feed tents. He stated, “I couldn’t walk away” from the hunger problem.

Thurow observed that school children during the hunger season would come home in the middle of the day for lunch and would check to see if there was food, and they would come home at night and once again check if there was food. A hunger season can last from a few weeks to close to a full year according to Thurow.  They only ate some tea or porridge some days. While school children in the United States can choose what they want to eat from the lunch line, school children in Kenya are unsure whether they will eat. Healthcare is also a problem. Thurow explained during a interview that when a pregnant woman had a complication, she had to pay a lot of money to get to a hospital that was over 10 miles away.

These farmers have been ignored by the government, the rich, the private sector and various other groups. They “haven’t had access to essential elements of farming” according to Thurow.  He explained how people believe that these farmers are “too poor, too remote, too insignificant”. According To Thurow, around 1980, 20-25% percent of development aid was given to agriculture development; now only about 1-2 % of aid is going toward agriculture development. He explained that people feel since countries like the United States make food cheaply that the farming people in areas like Africa should work in factories and buy food from bigger countries and get aid if they need help. During the phone interview Thurow said that it would be better if farmers were able to “feed themselves” as opposed to getting food through aid.

In his speech, Thurow spoke about an organization that is currently trying to help these farmers prosper. The organization is called the “One Acre Fund” and helps over 130,000 farmers with low interest loans. Thurow credits a student at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University with the idea. He explains that the organization wants “to bridge (the) neglect of smallholder farmers.” He further elaborated that the company offers microfinancing to these farmers so that they are able to get “essential elements of farming” like seed and fertilizer.

One of the female farmers (he describes the stories of various farmers in his book who were helped by the “One Acre Fund”) he discussed is named Zipporah. She used to harvest two bags of food. After being helped by the “One Acre Fund”, she now harvests 20 bags of food.  Thurow added during the interview that these types of farmers are aware that crimes can occur so they put their food in secure places like their bedrooms.

Thurow told the story of Rasoa, a story that stunned the audience. After being helped by “One Acre Fund,” she had a great harvest and as a consequence, she was determined to fund her child’s high school education. She decided to buy a cow that would enable her to sell milk and then she would sell the cow for a profit in a few years. He explained how in Africa they do not have 401k’s but this woman has created “a 401 Cow Plan.”

Near the end of his speech Thurow said that by 2050, the world’s population will be much bigger than today and will need more food production. He stated during the phone interview that these farmers could “add to it, (and) strengthen the food chain” in the future.

At the conclusion of the speech, Thurow said that people should do everything they can to help these needy farmers including contacting their congressmen and becoming involved. Programs like Feed the Future created during the Obama Administration has started to help these people, but they still need more funding, according to Thurow.

  • written by Benjamin Schoenkin on February 6th, 2013
  • posted in Edit

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