Author and journalist Roger Thurow was the keynote speaker for the Foods Resource Bank regional gathering hosted by the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund on Feb. 15. Thurow spoke about his upcoming new book on the smallholder African farmer, and how the state of agriculture and food production in Africa has potential to affect the entire world. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Growing project leaders gathered at a meeting of the Foods Resource Bank hosted by the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF) on Feb. 15. The meeting brought together some 35 farmers and representatives of churches involved in growing projects in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
Foods Resource Bank growing projects in US communities supply funds for food security and agricultural development and education programs carried out around the world. Brethren congregations participate in the Foods Resource Bank through the sponsorship of the GFCF.
The Feb. 15 gathering at the Church of the Brethren General Offices was one of seven simultaneous winter gatherings conducted by Foods Resource Bank board members across the country. Other regional meetings were held in Akron, Pa.; Archbold, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo.; Decatur, Ill.; Kansas City, Kan.; and San Antonio, Texas.
Foods Resource Bank members Gary Cook of Bread for the World and Brian Backe of Catholic Relief Services joined GFCF manager Howard Royer in planning and hosting the Elgin observance. The keynote presentation was by Roger Thurow, co-author of “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty” and a former journalist at the “Wall Street Journal.”
Thurow’s interest in food and agriculture began when he was on a trip to Kenya with a group of farmers from Ohio, and first saw African farmers through the eyes of American farmers, he told the gathering. The experience led to his current writing project, a book on the smallholder African farmer. Thurow is spending time with a group of subsistence farmers in Kenya, finding out what their day-to-day life is like as they try to raise crops to feed and support their families.
“What is it like not to be able to grow enough food to feed your family?” he asked. Most of the farmers he is following for the book are women, because women make up the majority of smallholder farmers in Africa. Thurow’s next trip to Kenya is this planting season, when he will wait with the farmers for the rains to come.
The challenges these farmers face are many: small plots of land, averaging less than an acre to one or two acres each; little use of hybrid seed; little education about how to plant and care for a crop; lack of good storage facilities; lack of access to markets; difficulties with transportation and infrastructure; and vulnerability to weather and drought.
“Outrage and inspire” was the “mantra” for his first book “Enough,” written with co-author Scott Kilman: “Outrage that we have brought hunger with us into the 21st century. Hunger is one of the great problems of the world that can be conquered…. It can be the singular achievement of our age,” he insisted. “So, enough is enough!”
“Captivate and motivate” is the mantra for his book on the African farmer. This is because the problems of Africa may potentially affect the food situation in the whole world, Thurow said. Experts have said that by the year 2050 the world must double its food production in order to prevent mass hunger. “Where will this quantum leap come from?” Thurow asked. “Africa is the place where this kind of improvement can still happen.”
International support for agricultural development in Africa is crucial, to move the continent from subsistence to sustainability, he said. He added a plea for the US government to maintain its budget for development work in Africa through US AID and development aid. “We have the technology, so what we need is this political will.”
Quoting from Kenyan farmers who have chosen a name meaning “We have decided” for their group, Thurow congratulated the Foods Resource Bank for being among those who have decided to fight hunger. “What I have decided is I have to go and man the front ramparts of the hunger fight with all of you,” he said in closing. “In the 21st century, nobody, particularly the small farmers of Africa, should be dying of hunger.”
Following his presentation, Thurow fielded questions about other issues, ranging from what the price of food should be in our world economic system, to crop diversification. Many people stayed on after the meeting ended to talk further with Thurow and to buy copies of “Enough,” which is available through Brethren Press (call 800-441-3712).
For more about the Global Food Crisis Fund go to www.brethren.org/site/PageServer?pagename=go_give_food_crisis. For more about the Foods Resource Bank go to http://www.foodsresourcebank.org/ .
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