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Book Review: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow

Kenyan woman standing in a field.Summary:
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.

Review:
Every once in a while there’s a book that you know will impact your entire life.  I know this is one of those books.

Thurow strikes the perfect balance between narrating the farmers’ lives and knowledgeably discussing the global politics and environmental problems that also impact the hunger.  The information he hands out would be riveting in any case, but how he narrates it kicks it up to another level.

Central to the book is this question:

Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the world was producing—and wasting—more food than ever before? (location 202)

I know we all know there is hunger in the world, but it can be easy to ignore when it doesn’t have a face like David or Dorcas, two of the children featured whose mothers flat out do not have food to give them.  During the wanjala, since it is most of the families’ first years using One Acre Fund, they do not have enough maize (their staple crop) from the year before.  Thus while watching their fields grow, they don’t have enough food to feed their families.  During the height of the wanjala the families routinely have tea for breakfast and lunch and maybe some boiled vegetables or bananas for dinner.  And they still must farm and go to school.  I can’t recall the last time I’ve been so humbled.

Don’t get me wrong.  The families profiled in this book aren’t put on a pedestal or romanticized or distanced.  They are very real.  But their strength and wisdom in the face of so many challenges has no other option but to be inspirational.  Because it is so real.

You don’t focus on the afflictions you have, on your poverty; you focus on where you are going. (location 1469)

Makes you feel bad for complaining about morning commutes, doesn’t it?

Beyond talking about the disgusting fact that there is still hunger in a world with so much plenty and demonstrating the resilience of the families, the book also discusses One Acre Fund’s poverty fighting ideas.  Basically they operate on the teach a man to fish principle.  Thurow talks about how Youn, the founder, believes that bringing in food aid to feed farmers is absurd.  We should instead be helping them to farm better.  Beyond it not being sustainable to feed everyone year after year, it robs the farmers of their dignity.  This was the point I liked best.  These people are not dumb or lazy.  They are victims of a system that is not working.  Helping them help themselves lets them retain their humanity and dignity.  I think that’s something that is often missing in charity work and ngos, but it’s vital to truly changing the game.

Overall, if you want a book that will challenge your perceptions, humble you, broaden your horizons, and help you see how to truly fight global poverty, this is the book for you.  In other words, this is recommended for everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Counts For:
Specific country? Kenya
map of africa

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The Fox family and opossum sitting on a couch.Summary:
Mr. Fox promised his mate when she got pregnant to stop raiding the local farms and settle down to a safe journalism job, but when they move to a tree close to three farms, he finds night raids irresistible.  Soon the woodland critters and the farmers are in an all-out battle of wits.

Review:
OMG I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!!

First, it is done in delicious stop-motion animation.  The whole film is truly a piece of art.  My particular favorite is when they do cut-aways of the animals’ homes and tunnels below-ground.  It looks so incredibly real.  It reminds me of my well-loved books growing up that would cut-away animal homes like beaver houses and show you their house inside, complete with beds and stoves.  Swoon.

Second, there’s the storyline.  I’ve always loved the crafty animals out-witting the farmers from basically the first day I could read.  This may have been an indication of my future vegetarianism.

Third, there’s the characters.  The three farmers each have their own personalities.  The animals have more well-rounded characterization than I’ve seen for people in most tv shows.  For instances, Mr. Fox’s nephew, Kristofferson, is a naturally calm soul who knows karate and meditates every day contrasted with Mr. Fox’s son, Ash, who just wants to be a bandit and is pretty much perpetually angry.

Fourth, there’s the soundtrack.  There’s a wonderful folk tune about halfway through the movie that is very reminiscent of the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? another one of my all-time favorite movies.

Finally, there’s the fact that Dahl dealt with adult language in a kids’ film by replacing any swear word with the word “cuss.”  This results in the adult animals saying wonderful things like “What the cuss?!”  Brilliant.

I probably should also mention the fact that Mr. Fox is voiced by George Clooney who is always swoon-worthy.

I honestly can’t think of anyone who would dislike this movie.  I suppose if you hate animals and have no soul you might not like it.  All others need to go watch it immediately.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Zune on Xbox

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