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A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

by Roger Thurow

Pub Date: May 29th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61039-067-5
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Toiling one step ahead of famine: a firsthand chronicle of a year in the life of small farmers in Kenya.

As a senior fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Thurow (co-author, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, 2009) traveled to Kenya at the invitation of the American social enterprise One Acre Fund in order to help often-neglected small farmers gain access to the technology and knowledge that would allow them to avoid the famines that have typically plagued the African regions. Rural Africa, long a “nightmarish landscape of neglect,” underutilized and undercultivated, might offer the hope of feeding the burgeoning future population of the world—but only if its resources can be ecologically harnessed and its small farmers trained to use the land wisely, according to the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations. Under the auspices of One Acre, Thurow worked with cooperatives in Lutacho, in the same Lugulu Hills of western Kenya made famous by Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. Of the 100 or so farmers in the area (overall, One Acre worked with 50,000 farmers in western Kenya and Rwanda), more than two-thirds were women who had to put aside traditional farming methods and learn the “Obama method,” as the One Acre field officers called it, capitalizing on the American president’s family ties to the region. As they trusted the new hybrid seeds of maize and learned how to weed, use fertilizer, buy on credit and sell on the commodities market, farmers like Leonida and Rasoa were seeing greater yields and learning how to plan for times of scarcity. Thurow’s account is a seasonal diary, moving from the dry season at the New Year through the planting; he recounts the wait for rains and the harvest and the successes and failures of a handful of tenacious family farmers.

A business-based approach that redefines the notion of food aid to Africa.