Elizabeth Innocent lives in Maiduguri, Borno State. She is one of the lucky survivors of the Boko Haram insurgency. CHIKA MEFOR in this report tells the story of this mother of three who is sustaining her family through her fara business
In the middle of the bustle and hustle, along the Damboa Road in Maiduguri, Borno State is a 25-year-old woman, Elizabeth Innocent, who everyone has come to know for her crunchy and testy Fara (fried grasshopper), a delicacy mostly found in the North.
Elizabeth who is a mother of three, arrives her spot every day towards the evening period, armed with her fire wood, frying pan and other necessary things to make sure that her teeming customers are satisfied to come back for more.
She has become an expert in the business. According to her, she is always particular with the way she prepares her fara so as to make sure she satisfies her customers.
The fara (grasshopper) is consumed in that area for decades and have been part of meals or eaten alone as snacks.
“We get it from the Kanuri people who use to harvest it from the village. We go to Shagari Locust Market to get it. We remove the feathers when we get home and then, we parboil it. We then dry it outside. While parboiling it, we put salt, maggi, and lime. After that, we then dry it. It only takes one day to do all this. I buy it every day,” she explains.
Though the business has been a source of livelihood for Elizabeth, it was not the life she had hoped for as a young bride when her husband brought her from Benue State to Maiduguri.
But faced with the reality of life, she had no option but to start the Fara business as a means of augmenting the money her husband earns.
“I started the business in 2009. I started with N1500. Then, a bag of fara was sold at N1500. It was a good business at that time so I went into it,” she explained as she starred the fara in the frying pan.
Elizabeth and her family were happy as they managed the little she got from her business and what her husband made as a sales person in an electronic shop when the Boko Haram insurgents struck.
At first, the stories of the attacks were coming from communities far from the city center, until Maiduguri was hit. Elizabeth and her family had to flee the state to Abuja where they stayed with some relatives. But life in Abuja wasn’t easy.
Faced with nothing to do to earn a living, the couple could not stand the thought of being at the mercy of their relatives for a very long time. They had only two options, it was either they go back to their Village in Benue, or return to Maiduguri. The couple chose to return to Maiduguri.
“We thought of going back to the village. In Abuja, we were staying with relatives. There was no job there. Staying with relatives like that for a very long time with nothing doing isn’t a good thing. No one will pray for that life,” she told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
In Maiduguri, the couple had to start life all over again. Things were not the way it used to be. Elizabeth’s husband was not able to get his job back. Besides, in Maiduguri, as things were returning to normal, young men in the area had to be careful not to fall in the hands of the Boko Haram sect. “It was a difficult time for us,” she said. “But we chose not to relent. Sometimes we even found it difficult to feed, but God was on our side.
“When there was nothing else to do, I decided to go back to my Fara business. The first shock I had was that because of the insecurity and the activities of Boko Haram, the price has skyrocketed.
“Instead of the N1,500 I used to buy a bag, it has risen to of N18, 000. The price went higher because of insecurity. Most of the villagers that used to bring the fara have been chased away, their villages destroyed. With the bomb blasts and every other things, people are scared to go into the bushes to get the fara.”
Elizabeth explains that because she gets the fara expensive, she doesn’t make much profit any longer, “but it is better than staying at home doing nothing. It has sustained my family so far. I don’t have any other business so that is the reason I am sticking with it. I am the one that is taking care of the family now since my husband is still unemployed.
“The biggest container I have here sells for N2000, but before the insecurity issue, it was sold for N1000 or N800. But when we remove the cost of fire wood, oil and other things, the profit is not that much,” she said.
Like many others, who are rebuilding their lives after the activities of the insurgents, the mother of three wished for the days when Maiduguri was a peaceful place and people moved around with no fear.
“We still live in fear in this area but we pray that this insecurity will be a thing of the past. It has reduced, but it has not stopped completely. I am not always relaxed here but I had to do my business. I need money to take care of my family,” she said.
The many customers who troop in to buy the fara from Elizabeth is a testament that she knows her onions when it comes to the business.
One of her customers, Salifu Abu, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend stated that Elizabeth had a special touch with the crunchy snacks which had prompted him to come to get the fara from her whenever he was in Maiduguri for business.
“I not only buy for myself. My staff and friends in Abuja always wait in anticipation whenever I come back from here. I always buy enough to go round. Some of them will give me money ahead of time. The thing about the fara is when you eat it once, you don’t stop,” he said.
Experts have revealed that insects like grasshoppers and locusts have a rich source of fat, protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA), globally, at least two billion people eat insect which requires far less land and water than cattle, and more than 1900 species have been used for food.