young man from the farm was looking smart in an olive green suit, salmon tie
and cufflinks. His black shoes were a
bit scuffed, but his English was polished.
“We are moving forward,” he said.
“Forward ever, backward never.”
last I saw Gideon Wanyama, at Christmastime 2011, his high school education was
wavering in the balance. He had just
finished his third year, but it had been a mighty struggle. All year long, his family had sacrificed to
scrape up enough money for his school fees.
His mother, Leonida, a smallholder farmer, sold their maize harvest,
prolonging the family’s hunger season.
Still, that wasn’t enough; several times, the principal of the high
school sent Gideon home to bring back more money to complete the tuition
payment. Leonida, prizing the education
of her children above all else, sold off other assets. Then, days before the final exams, Gideon was
stricken with a bad case of pneumonia.
He recovered in time to take the tests and, as the year came to a close,
he was back home on the farm awaiting the exam scores. During the holiday he helped his mother and
father improve their mud-and-sticks house by slinging a new layer of mud on the
featured Gideon and his quest for an education in my new book, The Last Hunger Season, and often readers
ask, “What has happened to Gideon? Has
he finished school?”
a week of reporting in western Kenya, visiting the farmers in the book, I am
happy to report that Gideon has indeed completed high school, likely near the
top of his class. He won’t know the precise
final scores for another month or two, but he says, confidently and with a
broad smile, “I passed, I’m sure of it.”
If those scores are good enough, he hopes to enroll later this year at a
university in Kakamega, a larger town in the region, “and my education will
continue,” he says. He still harbors an ambition
to study law, but he knows that could take eight more years of school, which
would require a longer stretch of sacrifice by his family. So he is focusing on an alternate course:
Dan Glickman is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, based in Washington,
DC and a cochair of The Chicago Council's Global Agricultural
Development Initiative. Mr. Glickman served as the U.S. secretary of agriculture from March 1995 until January 2001. This post originally appeared on Diplomatic Courier.
Dear Mr. President,
You have many pressing priorities on your plate as you enter into a
second term, but one area where your leadership can continue to make a
difference here at home and abroad is a focus on global food security.
How to feed a hungry world in a sustainable manner is one of the most
vexing problems we will have to face in the coming years, but not an
Remarkable progress has already been made during your first term
under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch with the Feed the
Future initiative. This innovative program begins moving us away from a
model of food aid, to one where we are actually providing education and
assistance to farmers in the developing world to begin to provide for
This important work is not charity or good will, but rather an
investment in our own future and our own national interests. The
vulnerability that comes from poverty and starvation breed instability
and unrest—classic symptoms that make impoverished areas of the world
easy recruiting targets for Al Qaeda and others who wish to do us harm.
Take last year’s famine in the horn of Africa as an example. This
strategic area of the world is ripe for instability. After the last
major famine in 2002, the U.S. was part of an effort to invest in the
Famine Early Warning System Network to begin addressing the root causes
of famine before it has the opportunity to become a crisis. As a result,
millions of people who would have been at risk of starvation were
spared from unnecessary suffering in 2011.
One Acre Fund farmers in Chwele District, Kenya attend a training on how to plant millet. They are comparing the length of their fingers as they are told to plant their millet seeds as deep as the second knuckle on their index finger. Credit: Hailey Tucker
Photo courtesy of the One Acre Fund blog. One Acre Fund is an NGO in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi that helps 135,000 smallholder farmers grow their own way out of poverty by providing a "market bundle" that includes education, finance, seed and fertilizer, and market access.
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Sung serves as the editor of The Chicago Council's Global Food for Thought Blog.
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