Improving Rural Livelihoods in Zambia with SRI: The Inspiring Story of Henry Ngimbu.
Henry Ngimbu’s Story
Henry Ngimbu is a Zambian entrepreneur, with a passion for improving the livelihoods of rural communities in his home country. Born in Zambezi District in 1964, Henry developed a strong interest in science during his secondary schooling in Solwezi, where he was elected chairman for the school’s J.E.T.S Club (Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists). He won first prize in the Physical Science senior category for a project promoting the improvement of local indigenous plants, which sparked his lifelong commitment to finding ways of improving the lives of rural communities in Zambia in a sustainable manner.
In 2003, Henry discovered SRI (the System of Rice Intensification) through an article in a newsletter from ECHO (US) and learned of Professor Norman Uphoff, who after Henry reached out, provided him further information on SRI. Henry’s background in entrepreneurship, coupled with his interest in agriculture, led him to get involved in agricultural projects in the northwest province of Zambia, where he began experimenting with organic methods to reduce the cost of inorganic fertilisers. He saw farmers were becoming slaves to inorganic fertiliser and recognised the opportunity to avoid further depletion of living material.
Henry was eager to put into practice what he had learned about SRI from Professor Uphoff’s materials. In 2006, he established a cooperative in Solwezi through a farmer field school. During the first year, Henry took charge of the spacing and sowing, which proved to be a resounding success. The Permanent Secretary of the Office of the President, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, visited the field site and was impressed by the results. This visit attracted attention, and the cooperative received a donation of $10,000 (CAN). Additionally, the Millennium Challenge Fund provided funding for a hand-weeder. The yield from the fields was reported at average of 4 tonnes per hectare, which was a significant improvement compared to the usual 1-2 tonnes per hectare. The success of the cooperative was reported by Cornell University, further bringing attention to Henry’s work.
In 2007, World Vision invited Henry to train farmers, and the results were again positive. This time, he trained 300 farmers, and they were provided with a rice mill to further improve their production. Rice is still a major crop in the area, and the success of the project drew the interest of the US Embassy.
Henry trained farmers in Western Province and later shifted his focus to the Zambezi District in the Northwest Province, where the US Embassy funded community training and subsequently donated a rice polisher machine. Henry worked as the Rice Specialist with the Zambian NGO COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation) to impressive results and today thanks to his leadership and determination an estimated 40,000 Zambian farmers are producing SRI rice.
In addition to training SRI farmers in various districts, Henry has also focused on creating markets for SRI rice in both formal and informal settings. Through his work with COMACO, Henry has been able to directly process and sell Loanja Rice, named after the river in Mwandi, to shops and supermarkets. While imported rice and other national brands are competing with local rice, Henry has experimented successfully with producing rice meal made from broken rice, which is proving is popular and cheap competing with subsidised maize meal. Henry has also found other uses for by-products of the rice milling process, such as rice bran, which can be used for livestock feed and rice husks by making briquettes as a substitute for wood charcoal made out of trees cut from natural forestry. With Zambia importing around 50% of its rice, there is market potential for local rice, which has an aroma preferred by Zambians over imported varieties – often referred to as ‘plastic rice’!
Henry has four key areas he is believes paramount to growing SRI in Zambia:
1. Training farmers and spreading the knowledge of SRI methodology
2. Achieving market support for SRI farmers
3. Advocating to government for the benefits of SRI
4. Promoting SRI as an emerging option for climate change adaptation and conservation of environment.
Henry maintains his optimism for the future of SRI in Zambia, even though there is still untapped potential for the government to fully support SRI policies including adjusting fertiliser subsidy policies. Local authorities remain supportive of SRI due to the successful results in bringing rice production in areas previously thought unsuitable for farming. The renewed national enthusiasm for decentralisation including agriculture could pave the way for SRI adoption in Zambia.
See Henry’s journey here.
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