By Randy Joe Sa’ah in Baba II Village, North Western Cameroon
SDF Chairman John Fru Ndi on Saturday September 14th 2014 officially kicked off campaigns for his party as they prepare for the September 30 2013 local and legislative elections.
For the next two weeks, he will be criss-crossing the country as he attempts to garner votes for the elections the ruling CPDM party is largely expected to win.
What is less known about the opposition Chieftain is that he is a farmer and spends a lot of time either in his home village Baba II or in Wum where he owns a large farm that has cash crops and animals. When he takes off his political coat and tie, he quickly dons a cowboy hat and boots and heads to one of his many farms.
BBC Correspondent and Menchum Voice newspaper editor Randy Joe Sa’ah and some colleagues spent a day with the chairman in his farm in Baba II recently.
Here are his reflections on that farm visit.
I traveled to the Baba II farm of SDF Chairman John Fru Ndi with two colleagues Azore Opio, Editor-In-Chief of Green Vision, an environment-focussed newspaper and Theodore Ndze, managing editor of Menchum Voice newspaper.
First, we “gate-crashed” his Ntarikon residence on a sunny but chilly morning. The engines of two land cruisers were running as Fru Ndi gave out last-minute instructions before rolling out through the green gates for a trip to one of his farms.. We had little choice but leap onto one of the pick-ups and follow the SDF chieftain for an eye-opening visit to his farm.
The drive from Bamenda town through Bali Nyongha was unevently because of the good road network but when we left Bali, things changed. It was a wet, bumpy ride up the steep and slippery Baba II village hills to the farm.
The roads leading to Baba II are in pretty dire situation. They are so slippery that everybody travelling to the area, men and women alike, must climb down from their vehicle and do some mandatory car-pushing.
Unimpressed with his driving skills, my colleague Opio simply took over from the young man who was our driver and displayed his dexterity at the wheels. Hours later, we arrived at our destination. The story of what we had to go through on the bad roads is another story.
On arrival, we drove directly to the farm house of the chairman. The big modern structured farm house has enough rooms to house a big-sized family.
It’s a place you’ll love to visit with some luscious green landscape. A very attractive pine tree stands in the middle of green lawns in well-manicured flower garden. Seven varieties of sweet smelling rose flowers imported from Switzerland, California, and South Africa whilst his wife, Rose, was still alive, perfume the yard in full bloom. Rose now lies peacefully in the rosy garden in a marbled grave. Lower down the yard are healthy-looking fruit trees, including avocado trees.
“I ate a pear in South Africa and it was good. So I brought the seed and planted it here,” Fru Ndi told us.
The yummy taste aside, Fru Ndi also had some important farming lessons for all three of us.
“One of these trees can produce about 50 healthy fruits. I planted 24 trees, so imagine how much money you could fetch from one single harvest,” he remarked as he guided us around the farm.
A visitor to the farm will not be disappointed as there is a lot to see and marvel at, from kola nut trees, guavas, grape fruits, plantains, pilchards to apples. You heard right, apples growing in North Western Cameroon.
It is not all rosy at the farm though because there are a good number of soldier ants that apparently don’t like visitors. Some attacked the Menchum Voice reporter Mr Ndze in typical style; crawling up his trouser legs and delivering their killer bites in the safety of his pants. He wailed in agony before fighting them off! We could barely suppress our laughter as we watched him fight off the soldier ants.
Following the brief laughter interlude, Mr Fru Ndi gave us more farming lessons and again repeated why it was necessary for as many young people in the country as possible to embrace farming.
Once on the farm, you’ll immediately realise how effortless and easy it is to cultivate fruit trees and food crops on a relatively small piece of land. The farm produces everything a large family eats in an average day from avocado to bananas, from breakfast to dinner.
The fresh water from the Baba hills waters Fru Ndi’s crops and is also a good source of drinking water. Mr Fru Ndi always takes empty containers which he fills each time he visits and takes back to town.
“Pa has no worries about bottled water from supermarkets. This is what he drinks,” one of the ladies on the farm told us, out of earshot from her employer.
The farm provides a large amount of food the chairman needs to feed his large family and the hundreds of friends and political collaborators who visit his home every other day. There are tree plants on the farm that would take up to 20 years to bear fruits.
In his other farm in Wum, Fru Ndi has planted economically beneficial trees like mahogany, iroko, bobinga and bitter kola.
“I have planted over 200 mahogany trees. I’m planting for posterity,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Fru Ndi talks politics in a roundabout way: “African leaders cry foul about climate change but they are not telling us the way forward. In Africa, as long as we generate income from felling trees, no one cares about reforestation. My wife and I started a project to plant one tree for every birth in our community. The project failed because of recalcitrant mayors.”
Cattle farming, however, causes friction in many North Western villages. We learnt Aghem women in the late 70’s trekked for 83km to the governor’s office to protest against the destruction of their crops by Aku graziers. This affected the young Fru Ndi and when he could afford it, he acquired some free land to raise cattle, but made sure his animals fed in an enclosed area.
“I have a paddock so my animals are restrained. They feed on the spot with pasture. They grow bigger, healthier and the meat tastes different. That is the lesson Fru Ndi is demonstrating to the graziers in Wum,” he said.
Fru Ndi’s orchard farm in Befang hires some 100 holiday-makers each year. During our visit, some 20 women from Nkwen were tilling the soil to plant a variety of food crops which they would be paid for their time. Fru Ndi tries to hire different women from different villages each time as a way for them to get some money to help with children’s fees and other incidental daily expenses. The point Fru Ndi implies is to show how farming could help reduce the massive unemployment across the country.
Like every other farm house, birds are often present and can be heard chirping all day long.
“Birds love humans and nice environments. That’s why they are all over and you can hear their singing here,” he says.
Fru Ndi is also a bee farmer and owns 80 bee hives in his wum farm.
The main lessons we picked from our farm visit was that more people needed to engage in farming/agriculture to resolve problems of food shortage, unemployment, and protecting the environment.
All good things come to an end and so did our visit. Playing the gracious host that he always is, we were served with some corn chaff and unadulterated palmwine. We were also offered some parting kola nuts grown on the farm to chew as we left the farm.
We needed that to chew and reflect as we began the annoying road journey again to Bamenda…