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UI alumnus draws attention toward hunger

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | OCTOBER 19, 2009 7:20 AM

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In the barren lands of Ethiopia, Roger Thurow saw the extremes of human nature — from greatness to savagery.

Thurow’s experiences of more than five years in Africa inspired the Wall Street Journal correspondent and UI alum. While Thurow went to Ethiopia to seize a story, the story instead grabbed him.

His time across the Atlantic eventually led him to cowrite Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, released in June. Thurow and Scott Kilman, both UI and Daily Iowan alumni, penned the book to draw attention to the lack of development in African agriculture, as well as neglect of African farmers by U.S. and European policies.

“Our mantra in writing the book was to outrage and inspire,” Thurow said.

Thurow, a Crystal Lake, Ill. native, spoke at the World Food Prize — founded by the late Norman Borlaug — in Des Moines about his book and its purpose on Oct. 16.

Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, fought a similar fight as Thurow, only his was almost 40 years earlier; Borlaug established the Food Prize in 1986.

In an interview with Thurow, Borlaug told the journalist: “We’ve got the know-how to feed the present world population.”

Thurow and Kilman set out to show the same thing with their book.

Motivation for that book started in 1986, when Thurow went to South Africa. Approximately 16 years later, after traveling the continent and the world, Thurow began to examine with Kilman how U.S. and European foreign policies affect many Third World countries. The pair wrote a series of articles beginning in 2002 called “Anatomy of Famine,” a project on starvation in Africa.

A year later, when Thurow arrived in Ethiopia, he gained key inspiration for what would eventually become Enough after witnessing the effect of the Western world on African agriculture.

More than 14 million people were on the verge of starvation, Thurow said, and that while some reasons for hunger were natural occurrences — such as drought — the markets failed before the weather did.

“[Ethiopia] gave me a new passion and sense of urgency in my writing,” Thurow said.

He returned to the United States in 2005 and began writing at the Chicago bureau of the Wall Street Journal, where Kilman has been stationed for nearly two decades. The two journalists soon realized their work had a larger scope.

“At one stage, I said [to Kilman], ‘I don’t think our souls will rest until we put all we know together in a book,’ ” Thurow said.

The UI Center for Human Rights’ Careers for Change Lecture series brought Thurow to the UI to discuss the book on Oct. 14.

While here, Thurow also lectured to the Geography of Justice class taught by UI geography Professor Rex Honey.

“[Thurow] has great credibility,” Honey said. “He knows what he’s talking about.”

Thurow’s wife of 23 years, Anne, agreed, noting her husband is a very dedicated journalist.

Back at the UI, Thurow encouraged young journalists to travel, see the world, and take adventures.
“Go out and change the world,” he said. “Go get ’em.”


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