Anne Mireille Nzouankeu | September 15, 2014
Mary Nfor Ngwa begins each morning by visiting her cows. She checks their stalls, and she strokes and talks to them. As she feeds one of her cows, she says, “This cow has changed my life. My hopes are renewed.”
Mrs. Nfor Ngwa taught for nine years in a private elementary school in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest Region. But the school closed in 2009 after a fire. There was no money to renovate, so the school could not reopen. Mrs. Nfor Ngwa lost her job. Unable to find another teaching position, she returned to her home in Santa, a village 25 kilometres south of Bamenda.
A neighbour invited Ms. Nfor Ngwa to join a local group and add her name to the waiting list for a donated cow. She remembers that day well. She recalls, “The suggestion made me smile. As a graduate teacher, I did not see myself as a cowherd. I regarded it to be a backward step.”
The NGO Heifer International had started a cow donation scheme in a nearby village. The idea attracted a group of young people in Santa so much that they adopted it for themselves.
Peter Mbu had received a donated cow a few years earlier than Mrs. Nfor Ngwa, and encouraged her to become a cowherd. He explains: “The cow donation system relies on the fact that a person receives a dairy cow from a community member. When the cow gives birth, that person gives [the calf] to another female member of the community, and so on.” Farmers receive a cow free of charge, provided that they agree to pass on a free heifer calf. Before they can receive a cow, they must provide suitable housing for the animal.
So Mrs. Nfor Ngwa signed up. She says, “About six months after I registered, I received a dairy cow, and I said to myself, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
With the help of her group members, Ms. Nfor Ngwa has adapted to her new life. She makes a better living than she did as a teacher. She says, “I have gradually expanded my herd. I sell the calves. I also sell yogurt made from the cows’ milk. I recently bought a freezer with the income from my cows.”
Despite her new occupation, Mrs. Nfor Ngwa has not forgotten teaching. With a broad smile, she says: “I would like to start classes in the holidays to teach young people the love of farming, and to challenge their belief that farming and livestock-rearing are reserved for those who have failed elsewhere.”