Breakfast with Roger Thurow, and the Power of “and”
Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture & Food Policy at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, joined our team for a special Trickle Up Breakfast Banter, a Tuesday morning ritual where Trickle Up staff gather together and discuss a proposed topic. Roger is a charismatic speaker whose ability to tell the story of the global food crisis, weaving in the narratives of poverty with hope, comes from a career centered on raising awareness of the increasing plight of the countless hungry in this world.
He presented his new book, The Last Hunger Season, a story that follows the lives of four Kenyan smallholder farmers—three of whom are women—over the span of one year as they struggle to grow their crops, overcome obstacles and make decisions that will have lasting effects on their families and homes.
One of the most important takeaways from his talk was the power of “And”, an important conjunction as Roger explains it.. Roger retold the story of how early on in his year-long stay in Kenya, he had the farmers sit down and discuss their goals for the upcoming year. All of them had:
- Feed my family.
- Send my children to school.
You would think that both these goals are achievable for any working farmer; grow crops to feed your family, and sell the rest for income to send your children to school. However, this is not the case. For African smallholder famers living in poverty, who at the mercy of their environment, a drought or infestation could devastate their crops and lead to the difficult decision of having to choose between feeding their family adequately, or sending their children to school in the hopes of a better future. It’s an “and/or” reality they face.
One of the most important takeaways from Roger’s talk is that food security is not a local problem. It is a global phenomenon that comes from the ever-increasing globalization of the agricultural industry. It can come in the form of agricultural policy, which has the power to provide and deny access to higher-yield, better seeds for these famers. It can change global commodity prices. It can also open and close food imports and a farmer’s ability to grow and sell crops. In effect, this agricultural policy rollercoaster, mainly in Washington DC, can determine how African farmers use the conjunction “and”.
So, what can be done? According to Roger, aid can be effective by y putting emphasis on programs that are not food handouts, instead are holistic in their ability to help empower smallholder famers in becoming self-sufficient. The USA’s Feed the Future program is a prime example. This is aid done right, as it provides farmers access to better seed varieties, and encourages agricultural development in the poorest nations through a global network of philanthropy and expertise, grounded in local understanding and knowledge. As Roger concluded, “It’s such policies that ensure that that elusive three-letter conjunction, “and”, can be a part of an African farmer’s vocabulary.”
Join in the discussion on global food security and raise awareness of the plight of smallholder famers by listening to this podcast from Roger’s talk (see below), reading Roger’s new book, The Last Hunger Season, and join us on Twitter using #lasthungerseason.
Podcast from the event: