In the words of Mereng Bessela: “I am a fighter and I do everything I need to”
Mereng Alima Bessela, age 50, is a successful entrepreneur from Ntui, in the Central Region of Cameroon. She is a cocoa farmer, which is traditionally farmed by men, has her own restaurant business and a fish farm. Like thousands of women in the region, Madame Bessala has no lack of acumen, but needs access to skills, markets and finance. Meeting these needs is at the heart of a UN Women project funded by The Development Bank of Central African States, implemented in communities living along a road that is being built between the townships of Batchenga, Ntui and Yoko. The project is providing training on business management and other skills to women farmers and entrepreneurs, facilitating their access to public services and preparing them for opportunities to grow their businesses once the road construction is complete. The “Gender Road Project” aims to empower at least 20,000 women living in this area.
My husband was chasing other women, so I divorced him. I have four girls and one boy and I am sending them all to school. I am a fighter and I do everything I need to. The most important thing is that my children finish school and find good jobs.
I started the restaurant business three years ago when I heard that the government is building a road between Ntui and Yoko. I knew the road project will bring more people.
Business is good! I cook traditional food and everyone appreciates that.
In 2017, I attended a training supported by the Ministry of Fisheries and Animal Husbandry, where I got the idea of starting a fish pond. I fell in love with fish farming.
In the morning, when I go to the pond to feed the fish, it’s my favourite time of the day. I throw the fish food in the pond and the fish get excited. Sometimes I feel so happy that I forget the time and I stand there watching them for an hour, forgetting that I must start cooking at the restaurant!
I spent a lot of money building my fish ponds, but there were many errors. For instance, when designing the fish ponds, if there are tree stumps at the bottom, you need to remove them, otherwise the water can drain off. This is why I have to refill my pond often. The way they built the outlets was also wrong, so when it rains heavily, the mud blocks the outlet and the water can overflow and the fish can drain out.
I learned all this from the many training sessions I took with the UN Women project. I have learned how to build the reservoir, how to breed and multiply the fish stock and how to feed the fish using local and natural food that’s organic and less costly. I have learned business management skills, which helped me grow my business.
I am also a farmer. After my divorce, I bought forested land, got it cleared and started my own cocoa farm. My dream is to build my own house when my cocoa farm starts producing crops. I can then close this restaurant and live off the cocoa farm and spend the rest of my days in my own house.
Now, the biggest challenge is access to finance. I have a lot of business ideas, but not enough money to invest.”