Thursday, March 29, 2007
In times like these, when many have lost faith in the Nigerian system, when political uncertainty and economic malaise plaque our Nation, two remarkable individuals have devoted their life to working with a rural community, providing them with opportunities to help themselves.
Through farming and food processing, Hope Eden Farm situated in Kuje Municipal Area Council Abuja provides a unique prospect for commerce and community development. An Agro-tourist concept of guest houses built based on the African “bush” hut model allow for visitors who wish to experience a traditional Nigerian homestead.
The road leading into Kuje, branching off the airport highway gradually unveils a lush view of Abuja’s characteristic crystaline hills. The eight kilometer trip to Hope Eden Farm, takes you down a part of Abuja that has been unaffected by the growing development and infrastructural changes taking place in other parts of town. Gwari women with loads on the back of their necks and nomadic Fulani’s graze their cows wearing a look of times unchanged by time or tide. A left turn away from the Kuje town will lead straight into a bumpy latrite road. The journey from here is not for the feeble minded.
Only the truly adventurous will continue down the mostly uninhabited road leading further into thicker greenery, now turned brown from the dry weather. Hopefully the spectacular view of the landscape will be a refreshing change from the concrete jungle all city residents are accustomed to, a potent distraction from the bumpy ride that travels unevenly into the entrance of Hope Eden Farm.
An ocaassional villager can be spotted, riding on a motorbike or walking to and from their farms. Small groups of women may be sighted gathered near creeks doing their laundry, but the scenery remains welcoming, like the warm embrace of a long lost lover, the luxuriantly carpeted hills kiss the sky, peeking through at the intrusion of passersby. This mostly unexplored part of Abuja has been designated for farming by the Abuja Geographical Information System. Several signboards declare boldly the owners of the different portions of land, but very little of the land is actually in use.
Shortly after passing Dafara Village juntion a small sign that says “welcome to Hope Eden Farm” mentions the end of the trip. A dirt-road snakes into the compound, a few houses built in no apparent order reveal the reality of several inhabitants. A serenading silence, shrouded by nature’s gifts of blossoming trees and wild flowers, reverberate the heart, whispering sweet promises of seclusion and relief from life’s troubling turmoil. The experience is even more delightful after meeting the initiators and owners of Hope Eden Farms, their hospitality and warmth is sure to relax the tensest of muscles, no matter where it is located.
Annegret and Shiekar Kumbur, an extraordinary couple spends most of their time, grappling with weather changes, fertilizer and herbicide scarcity, water and power generation shortages, produce preservation and a multitude of other challenges facing large scale farmers in Nigeria. Alongside all this work, they find time and other resources to support financially and morally, some children from underprivileged backgrounds they have taken responsibility for.
Motivated by the desire to provide employment for themselves and others, Annegret and Shiekar began to work on Hope-Eden Farm in 1998, with the clear objective of growing produce that can be sold to the growing population of the capital city. Determined to provide gainful employment for the multitude of youths they come in contact with, they work on the farm, pushing ahead despite all odds.
For Mr. Shiekar Kumbur, proving employment for youths, educated or not , is a matter of national security. He believes when the young are gainfully employed they are less likely to get into trouble. The farm for him is an opportunity for individual personality growth for the young and community development for the village. The Gwari, Fulani and Hausa villagers living in this remote village get an opportunity to earn a living as well as learn better agricultural methods.
The challenges are numerous, unavailability of low interest loans to allow for mechanization and importation of essential chemicals like fertilizer and herbicides make farming increasingly difficult. “This year we could not cultivate rice because the herbicide importers were stuck in some bureaucratic bottle neck” Shiekar laments.
High cost of diesel makes power generation prohibitive. For Annegret, working on the farm allows her to work closely with the rural communities, allowing her to contribute positively to their lives. Study sessions for the young children in this remote village has begun on the farm, giving the inhabitants of this inaccessible corner of Abuja a chance at high quality basic education. Working with volunteers from Germany, Holland and other parts of the world, the children of farmers and laborers will get a chance to improve their reading and writing abilities. Depending on availability of resources and manpower, Annegret a nurse by training, hopes to begin a primary health clinic, providing nutrition education and emergency care for expecting mothers. “Many pregnant women are dying in the villages because they can not afford to go to the hospital on time.” Annegret’s concern shows in her visibly troubled expression.
The name Hope Eden was inspired by the desire to create a place of clam and beauty, a setting for productivity and positivity. Annegret foresees a “place of peace and togetherness”. These are not ideals of someone who is not aware of the harsh realities in our time. “Because we live in a broken would, we are trying to build something to remind us of Gods intention for us,” Hence the name Hope Eden.
Shiekar admits that, their efforts are like a “drop in and ocean”, compared to all the challenges that rural dwellers are facing; their attempts of community development are like the faith process of planting a mustard seed.
Using solar energy and natural materials to build their homes, the remarkable duo have blended the best of traditional African Architecture with all the western conveniences, creating an exceptional model for promoting food security and encouraging recreational facilities in a natural and secluded surroundings.
If only we had more people like them, who believed in putting their money where their heart is, investing in a country they love, making a difference one tin of home made peanut butter, passion fruit jam and groundnut oil bottle at a time. It may not quite be Eden, but it certainly is giving hope to many.