MAMA FRESH: Vegetable Farmer Who Trained Three Graduate
Madam Chinyere Anokwute is a Lagos-based vegetable farmer. She hails from Umuwa in Urlu local government area of Imo state. She has over 30 years of farming experience. She and her siblings inherited the trade from their parents from a very tende
Before she went into farming, she worked as a stenographer and typist for Fairway Clearing and Forwarding Services, Ijora.
While working as a typist, her amiable disposition helped her build a viable service delivery and good rapport with her colleagues, especially her superiors. And the fact that she was diligent and enthusiastic endeared her to all. After spending five years in that company, she headed for another, George Hunter Security Company, where she worked for about three and a half years, before she got married. But her husband didn’t want his wife to work; he would rather she stayed at home to care for the family.
So, she resigned and stayed at home for some time, but before long, boredom set and she decided to take on farming as a vocation. Since, she was well acquainted with it from childhood, she soon settled into it and was reaping profits, which helped the family’s finances greatly. And the proceeds from her farm were used to train three children, who are presently graduates.
“Looking back, those early years were quite tough, but through God’s grace, the proceeds from the farm paid their school fees conveniently. The children were very useful on the farm. I’m grateful that farming made them graduates!”
And though she acknowledges that life is full of challenges, she believes that success is guaranteed. Asserting that her hands are her greatest assets, she says: “I believe that hard work pays and it is the day a man dies that work ends. Hard work makes me look young. Many people do not know that I am as old as my age. I love and enjoy hard work. Farming keeps me young.”
Indeed, she looks healthy and strong, despite her age. What is the secret of her youthful looks?
“Spending time in the farm is so much hard work, but fun. Although it is hard labour, but I also enjoy every bit of it. Today, farming is more than just work for me, it has become routine exercise and I hardly fall sick,” she explains.
The 59-year-old lives at Mafoluku, Oshodi, and her daily routine starts at 7am, when she goes to farm, located in the reserved area between Ajao Estate boundary and the Ejigbo area of Lagos. Her farm comprises about 15 plots of land, which she considers to be inadequate for her entrepreneurial activities because she has many mouths to cater for. This also explains why she is desirous of expanding the farm. She works for two hours before heading for her stall in the Abule Market area of Ajao Estate to start the day’s sales
Everyone calls her “Madam fresh” on account of her ever-fresh vegetables, which are from her farm. This, coupled with her cheerful free spirit attract customers easily. She is a staunch Catholic. Every Tuesday, after working in her farm, she sells her vegetables and fruits in front of the Christ Pentecostal Mission (CPM) in Ajao Estate. Business is usually brisk, as many people attending the special prayer and teaching on Tuesdays in the church patronise her and others.
As a farmer, she advocates eating natural foods, which is healthy for both adults and children. Economically, when people patronise locally grown food items, they are supporting the community, economy, as well as the nation and the farmers.
“When people know more about their foods and where they come from, they often make better choices. People that eat local food are more likely to eat more homemade meals and turn less to processed foods. Families should cultivate the habit of eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, because they are good for the health,” she urges.
In her view, local farmers like her are in a good position to advise on how best to prepare, store and use different kinds of vegetables.
“Local food is fresher, tastier and healthier for the body than all these canned food that people now eat. There is nothing as rich as a rich bowl of vegetable with garri, fufu or pounded yam,” she says.
She would also want parents to take their children to farms or farmers’ market so they can see how and where farm produce come from. This is because many children in the cities don’t know where vegetables come from.
“Children are more likely to enjoy eating fruits and vegetables, if they have some input and understanding of where they come from and have helped to prepare it,” she observes.
On the benefits of vegetable farming to the nation’s economy, she explains that when people buy directly from local growers, they are creating a direct link between those who grow the vegetables and those who eat it. And then the local economy also gets a boost when they buy the farm produce, because the money is kept within the community along, which can generate employment.
She wondered why many Nigerians don’t take full advantage of the benefits of vegetables since they are relatively cheap, though some are a bit expensive.
“Have you ever wondered who created the fruits, seeds, plants, trees, leaves and vegetables, and for what purposes,” she queries. “Everyday, while working in the fields and tilling the soil, I see all the plants, trees, fruits, seeds, roots, leaves and vegetables, which speak of the riches inherent in nature. We humans take many things for granted, either through ignorance or apathy. If only we would look around us, we would surely feel the Creator’s greatness.
“The Lord is great and it matters not whether men believe in Him or not. Every plant or tree He created has a purpose and if only people would look into them, as the scientists and researchers do, we will find so many wonderful secrets hidden in them, be it for feeding or most importantly for healing purposes.”
She is, however, happy that Nigerians have come to appreciate the benefits of eating raw leaves and seeds or using them in making soups. Of all these, she says the fluted pumpkin (Ugu) occupies a pride of place.
“What kind of soup can any one in Nigeria cook without the Ugu leaves,” she queries. “In my farm, there are different kinds of vegetables, but Ugu is one of the most beneficial because of its medicinal values.”
With great excitement, she highlighted all the qualities inherent in Ugu, which she describes as versatile and a panacea for hunger and certain illnesses. Even the popular Edikangikong soup, she says, owes its tasty and nutritious value to Ugu.
“Practically all-Nigerian soups are made with Ugu leaves, which if left out, would make them somewhat incomplete,” she says. “I have been eating the leaves all my life, just like every one in my family, especially since I discovered that the leaves contain medicinal values”
Despite her relative success as a full-time vegetable and fruit farmer, she is yet to attract or benefit from government support or bank facility. The only assistance she ever received was in the form of a N5, 000 loan given her by the then Afri Bank in 1995 at the start of her venture into farming.
Would she appreciate being given a loan?
“Yes,” she responds positively. “What I need now is a loan to boost my production and grow my business. I want to go into snailery and a loan will go a long way to help me acquire more land, as well as employ more hands to boast my production. This would also mean more land, more vegetables, poultry, piggery and snailery, fruits and even crops, as the need arises.
“I am particularly interested in snailery because it is very lucrative. Snails are one of those harmless creatures that God in His Infinite wisdom created for the purpose of helping humanity. Many of us may not have had the privilege to look at the snail’s life and learn from it. In my native Igbo language, we say, “Ejile neji ireoma aga na ogwu,” meaning snails have the tendency to walk on thorns without any fear of harm or molestation. Snails can easily walk through thorns like those of rose plants without any injury, while the thorns would prick other creatures.”
In her view, people can overcome difficulties, as well as solve knotty problems by imitating the gentle manners of snails; or by being honest, truthful and gentle. But nothing good is ever achieved by being arrogant, boastful or antagonistic.
“Many cultures have enjoyed eating snails over the centuries, but little did the eaters know that the creatures have astounding and amazing health benefits. Many years ago, snails were regarded as poor man’s delicacy because they are easy to find. Today, however, you have to pay a lot of naira or even dollars to have four big snails on your plate in any Nigerian restaurants.
Aside its nutritional values, she explains that snails have secretions alleged to contain copper peptides, which is thought to be the only natural source of some substance used in the manufacture of creams that help minimise scars.
She praised government’s effort at developing the agricultural sector, which she describes as a step in the right direction.
“I wonder why many people in Nigeria have not considered establishing snail farms instead of fish. It is a very lucrative business that young people, especially the unemployed can go into. In addition to other benefits, snails are tasty, juicy, delicious, nutritious and better than any red meat. Snail farming can make people rich, if they know how to rear snails”.