George Norton’s recently published book, "Hunger and Hope: Escaping Poverty and Achieving Food Security in Developing Countries," is part memoir, part textbook and contains many personal insights and lessons that students and development professionals alike can learn from and relate to.

Norton, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, uses agriculture and hunger as a baseline for discussions about poverty, and incorporates  anecdotes from his vast experience as both a professor and development professional in the Peace Corps to illustrate the challenges of living in a developing economy. The book is ultimately geared towards high school and undergraduate students studying international agriculture and economic development.

“I think it’s important for students to know what’s going on in the world, and also what’s going on in agriculture around the world,” said Norton.

Many years of experience in the dusty back roads of well-worn development outposts like Bangladesh, the Philippines, Senegal, and Colombia illustrate his points to students who often sit in comfortable classrooms with limited exposure to the daily challenges of living in a developing economy. His anecdotes are sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and often compare his own experiences with those of farmers in the developing world.

For instance, he juxtaposes the dangers of unregulated use of pesticides in modern-day Philippines to his own stories of growing up on a farm and begging to ride along in the vehicle spraying crops so he could feel the splash of sweet-tasting pesticides on his skin.

He also imbues his work with bone-dry humor, an uncommon element in most books that deal with this type of subject matter, but will no doubt keep students interested in his many tales of adventures in international agriculture.

"Why do the poorest of the poor in developing countries have so few choices? Why can’t they just, as my grandfather once asked, 'Pull themselves up by their bootstraps?' The simple answer is: No boots," he writes.

The statement is humorous, but also illustrates well the paradox that development professionals experience, often living simultaneously in two worlds, the developed and developing, and statements such as that will also cause many a development worker to nod in agreement as they read along.

Indeed, as Norton says in his book, his highest compliment may have come from an extension worker in Tanzania who once said that he seems more like a Peace Corps volunteer than a professor.

“One of the points I wanted to make by writing this book is that if development aid is to work, you can’t ignore agriculture,” he said.

 

 

Written by Amy Loeffler.

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