Nelly Bassily | March 8, 2010
Elise Dibabo doesn’t look like a typical farmer. Her round, gold-plated glasses give her the look of a newly-gentrified intellectual. Yet it has been eight years since Elise Dibabo left the city and deposited her luggage in the small village of Nkol-Ngock – much to the dismay of her husband, an executive in the shipping industry. Her husband had acquired more than 100 hectares of virgin forest in Nkol-Ngock, 60 miles from the city of Douala. Painstakingly and courageously, Ms. Dibabo has reclaimed and developed the land.
It wasn’t long ago that Ms. Dibabo worked as a housekeeper in Douala. But since her arrival in Nkol-Ngock, she has employed scores of labourers to work the land. She speaks with pride of her vast crops. There are 65 hectares of palm, over 10 hectares of pistachio, three of yams, and two each of cocoa, pineapple, watermelon, and plantain. Fifteen hectares are used to grow maize, mostly to feed her flock of 1,300 broiler chickens.
The construction of a palm oil processing plant has been the hallmark of her success. It has allowed her to grow the plantation to the size it stands today.
Ms. Dibabo’s dynamism has won her friends in Nkol-Ngock, a small town where everyone knows everyone. Getting used to the intimacy of small-town life took time. It was a big change from the crowded and noisy streets of Douala. It took Ms. Dibabo a year to adapt and integrate.
Ms. Dibabo currently employs eight workers from the village. Today she jokes with her staff. Contagious laughter erupts from time to time. Ms. Dibabo’s chief of staff is asked to name his boss’ faults. He responds that he can think of none. He feels that Ms. Dibabo cares for them like a mother. In fact, she provides her staff with meals and lodging on the plantation.
But operating a large-scale operation in a rural environment has its challenges. Ms. Dibabo says the hardest part is coping with a lack of electricity. Harvested crops often rot before they can be transported to the city. This is especially a problem during the rainy season when Ms. Dibabo’s truck can’t get through. As a result of some of these problems, she had to abandon much of her palm and banana plantings to grass.
In the midst of this sometimes harsh environment, Ms. Dibabo always finds solace in her husband, her companion of 30 years. She affectionately calls him “papa,” to which he replies “mama.” They share a love which makes young couples pale in comparison. Though her husband remains in Douala for business, he visits Nkol-Ngock every weekend. During the week, SMS messages and phone calls bring comfort.
Today, Ms. Dibabo dreams of taking a break from it all. Of moving away to a place where she wouldn’t have to worry about such things as crop viruses. At the age of 53, she is exhausted by the heavy physical and moral investment she has made. She doesn’t know how much longer she will be able to use a cutlass. So, she would like a little help from the authorities to purchase machinery.