By Louis Tillman
As part of my summer internship with ELCA World Hunger, I was assigned to read a book written by Roger Thurow called The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change. The book is primarily about Thurow’s experiences and journeys as he witnessed four separate farmers and their families during the hunger season in Kenya.
Let me ask you this: what would you do if you had two children to feed and pay their tuition to go to high school to have a better future, but all you had was a small farming business that received little to no income? How would you survive throughout a drought if farming was your career? What would you do first and who would you take care of first?
I recently attended a forum held by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the Chicago Club where Roger Thurow was the keynote speaker. He briefly talked about his encounters with these families during his time in Kenya and spoke about challenges that they had to go through to get to where they are now. He made valid points stating that the existence of hungry, small-hold farmers is an oxymoron. Small-hold farmers grow and harvest crops year round, yet they are still the hungriest individuals in Africa. He adds that two-thirds to three-fourths of these farmers are women.
This focus on women reminds me of the 100 Wells Challenge that ELCA World Hunger is promoting for the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering. Take a few minutes and watch the 100 Wells Challenge video. It speaks about how the average woman walks 3.7 miles to fetch the water for her daily household needs, — approximately 48 gallons for a family of four in the Global South. Three out of the four farmers that Thurow followed were women, which makes me wonder if women are the main ones raising their households throughout the year…Where are the men? Have they left? Why?
The 2009 Bread for the World hunger report states that women are more likely than men to spend their income on the well-being of their families, including more nutritious foods, school fees for children, and health care. The report also says that women in these deprived areas are taking the lead in providing for their families and researchers estimate that rural women produce half the world’s food and, in developing countries, between 60% and 80% of food crops (page 60). This is an astronomical amount of work and responsibility that is thrown on women’s plates where they become the primary support for their families in order to survive throughout the year. Even more startling, when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man (Chris Forston, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily, 2003).
I find it fascinating and admirable that single mothers and women in general are doing the bulk of the work to sustain a better life for their families. I still ask, “How can they do this?” What is the motivation and why haven’t they given up? As Americans we go through arduous tasks in our daily lives but it is nothing in comparison to the difficulties that I have read about in Thurow’s book.
After meeting the author Roger Thurow at his forum he asked a vital question that I feel everyone should ponder. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Mr. Tillman, how will you lead the way to the last hunger season?” So, friends, how will we lead the way toward the last hunger season?
–Respectfully submitted by Louis Tillman, ELCA World Hunger intern and Senior at Carthage College pursuing BA in Business Management and Public Relations