Country Impact 

Childhood gardening passion blooms into life-changing career

Ngaatendwe Murimba, Africa University graduate, launched The Smallholder initiative in the Spring of 2018.

“Nyasha Masimba” lives in Zimbabwe. The young woman dreamed of becoming a development worker. Orphaned, unemployed and responsible for her younger siblings, however, she decided to farm the plot of land she had inherited from her parents. But she knew nothing about farming or marketing whatever she managed to grow.

Enter The Smallholder, the brainchild of Africa University alumnus Ngaatendwe Murimba. He encouraged Nyasha and a few other young farmers to form a producer group. The Smallholder taught them about raising crops and caring for the soil, as well as the business side of farming.

Today Nyasha grows an assortment of fresh produce, selling consistently though a long-term commercial relationship with a private-sector buyer, a relationship facilitated by The Smallholder. “All of a sudden,” Ngaatendwe said, “Nyasha can support her siblings financially, while pursuing her dream” as she mentors future smallholders.

The youngest of five children, Ngaatendwe Murimba grew up in Chegutu, a town about 75 miles from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. As a boy, he loved to garden. “We had our own little nursery in the backyard,” he recalled, with “indigenous and exotic fruit trees and flowers.” His father was an education specialist with UNICEF. His mother is a primary school educator. They encouraged their children to go to college.

“For me, Africa University was not an option,” Ngaatendwe said. “It was The University.” Three of his siblings were AU graduates.

Ngaatendwe Murimba, Africa University graduate, with a current student at the Africa U farm.Enrolling at Africa University in 2012, Ngaatendwe studied crop production. In the summer of 2014, he landed an agriculture internship in Monroe County, West Virginia. His hosts, Brian and Leslie Wickline and their two children, attend Trinity United Methodist Church, Pickaway, West Virginia.

The experience proved life-changing. “Africa University, through its friends from the United Methodist global community, exposed me to … a three-month, fun-filled-but-rigorous internship that would transform me entirely,” Ngaatendwe said. “A seed inside me – of wanting to go back to Zimbabwe and transform the fortunes of struggling smallholder farmers – grew root.

“Africa University shaped me to be very practical in approaching life’s challenges,” he continued. “It provided the knowledge, tools and skills to address the (issues of) small-scale farmers who usually are rural families whose livelihood is dependent on agriculture. In essence, my AU education connected me with the grassroots, which need help the most. It’s a very spiritual journey for me.”

Murimba on a field visit with Kudakwashe Mugwagwa, a member of the smallholder group.The Smallholder concept, said Ngaatendwe, “is transformation of high-output agriculture using limited resources but still realizing satisfactory profit from small farms that are more competent, collaborative, sustainable, scalable and environmentally conscious. This model of agriculture is driven by a group of 20 to 30 young farmers, mostly women, who are sensitive and responsive to the food and nutritional needs of the continent, who deploy innovation to counter and reduce the impact of an ever-changing climate, and who can articulate solutions needed for a food-secure Africa and position the continent as a net exporter of food.”

Immediately after graduating in 2015, Ngaatendwe worked 20 months in AU’s marketing and public affairs office.

“It was a very exciting and inspiring moment for me, being a part of the many projects taking place,” he said. “Somewhere in all that activity, The Smallholder concept came to vision. As much as it pained me to leave the community, I felt that was the plan God had for me, and I decided to trust the voice within. A few months later, I am realizing I never really did leave. Once an Acacian, always an Acacian!”

Kudakwashe Mugwagwa in lettuce field.Ngaatendwe imagines an Africa without hunger, malnutrition and food-related poverty. “This,” he explained, “is the singular goal of the The Smallholder. It stands for more-secure livelihoods in the struggling agro-based populations of the continent of Africa, heavily reliant on agriculture and severely affected by shifts in climate.”

He remains grateful to Africa University and its many supporters.

“The United Methodist Church is at the heart of the university,” Ngaatendwe said. “I don’t think United Methodists really quite understand their impact on the continent through the university they support. Countless lives have been transformed. So much of the talent that Africa has to offer, which otherwise the world would never have seen, has been unearthed at AU, and it is mostly because of the unrelenting support of The United Methodist Church.”

Story by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, a freelance writer and editor.