Proud of the farming culture
There is much to love about Mesrake, an-hour-and-a-half outside of the capital Addis Ababa. Unlike the capital where farmers have been pushed to make ways for construction projects and that helped change its narratives, this unique place has stayed the same and kept its old-self untouched.
Not far from the famous Debre Libanos monastery, it is a village of noted hardworking farmers who have created comfortable lives for themselves, supplying for the thousands of inhabitants who depend on their production on a daily basis. More importantly, many ship to the capital, bringing them instant wealth that was rare in the area.
The nearest paved road is about 30 minutes away, in the town of Debre Tsege. The nearest store is about a half an hour walk and anything that resembles a public restaurant is a mud hut, where traditional alcohol, “Katikala” is sold. Many young people have left this village, looking for the adventure life of the capital, embracing modern lifestyle, while the older generations have called it home for eon.
This is also where Eshetu Tadesse has made a living for himself. He raised his children here, sending one to medical school and another to secondary school. He has buried his legendary father two decades ago and has experienced the entire milestone that comes with being a man.
The 53-year-old, who looks much older than his middle age, knows the area well and he had farmed here for more than half of his life. But that legacy of his abruptly ended a decade ago when he was forced to sell his cows and ended up doing dead-end jobs at nearby construction site projects. That was not the life he had envisioned for himself and he longed for a chance to continue the legacy of his family.
“I grew up as a farmer. Even long before I could walk, my father took me to his farm and I learned its skills early on. That is all I know how to do and everything I do, is to help me become an even efficient farmer,” he said.
For long, that was the dream he felt he would never realize, as old age was about to consume his energy to ever emulate his old life, his old-self. Eshetu had wanted to own cows, and become a raw milk provider to the growing demands coming from noted companies, coming from nearby towns.
“I am a farmer at heart. I have the skills, the know-how and the passion for it. I have regretted for many years, I was no longer able to do that,” he told The Reporter. “But now, I do not have to labor for cheap for others, be it in a dangerous construction site so that I can feed myself, but I can be a business owner, take care of my livestock and become the person I have always know I could become.”
It was a windy Sunday afternoon last week when Eshetu was visited by delegates of 54 Capital, an investment firm in Ethiopia with fast growing portfolios, including Etete Milk, Tena Oil and Aqua bottled water among others. Here, they were about to present him with a cow, a baby calf and supplies for them that would stretch him past six month which in total is worth 50,000 Birr.
This was to help him transition back to what he loved to do, but a grand scheme of things, it was also to be an experiment for the company, to see how they can help change the village in the future, as it looks to open a school or clinic in Ethiopia, as a commitment to donate a portion of their earning to the nation.
Eshetu had hit rock bottom over the years, after a career of farming rich enough to support a family of five. His life had not materialized as he had hoped. He had attempted to supplement his income with dead-end jobs, but they have only given him a ‘Band-Aid’ solution that has made his life unbearable.
His house, something he took possession after his father died, has literally fallen to the ground. He was becoming less of a person, having issues with his wife and being less self-sufficient. That was only until, family members gathered, and decided the best they could help him was help re-build his house, free a land he had rented to others to supplement his income so he would not become homeless.
They raised about 15,000 birr for the re-construction of his house, inside a pot of land that is more than 500sqm. While that helped him a bit and gave him a shelter, the biggest challenge became, how to make him self-sufficient and a rare connection with 54 Capital, that was on the lookout on how to put its corporate responsibility mantra to work.
Known as a generous company, 54 Capital most recently also donated six million birr to the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Communication as a strategic move to help create IT jobs among young people.
“In our village, there is not much to do, but be a farmer and that is a fulfilling life,” Eshetu told The Reporter, as he took possession of the animals he is certain will change his life and the lives of his family. “While it seems like a dream, it’s something I am trying to hold on to and make something out of it. I owe it to the people that gave me this second-chance. I did not think for a second that was coming my way.”
With children running around overlooking a green grand farm, he was elated by his new wealth and what the future would look like for him now. For him, it felt like he was self-defeating his potential, to not do much and with no savings and nothing to show, he told The Reporter, he felt life was passing him by.
“I would welcome my old age now, emulating the successes of my colleagues and siblings”, he said.
Eshetu estimates, he has a long life ahead of him. He has a helping hand from his second wife, Teji Kura who is a self-starter and someone who understands the power of animals and their dairy products and how much they can help change human lives. Her parents were farmers; her brothers and most of her family members are too.
“When I married Eshetu, he was also a farmer. He talked all things about farming and I am happy that we can go back to doing what we both love to do,” she told The Reporter.
“Farming is our culture”, Eshetu said. Teji nodded in agreement.