Urban farming is an integral part of the lifestyle of most urban residents in Zimbabwe, providing healthy home-grown food and extra income. Maize and sweet potatoes are the most popular crops planted and as the rainy season approaches, residents begin to see frenetic cultivation of most areas of undeveloped land around Harare.
This coming season however, far fewer people will be able to prepare land for crops due to the explosion in property construction that has engulfed the present day Harare map, particularly on the city outskirts. This will significantly impact the livelihoods of those who have depended on urban agriculture to make ends meet.
Christine Gadzikwa, a domestic worker in Borrowdale West, told Harare News that she will not be able to plant this season since her usual piece of land located near Groombridge shopping centre, has been developed by its owner. Gadzikwa said she will continue to look for another undeveloped piece of land to farm as her former 100 square metre field allowed her to supplement both diet and income through selling fresh and boiled mealie cobs to other residents in the area.
Housing developments are not the only threat. Historically, the Harare municipality has been at loggerheads with urban farmers slashing crops planted in illegal spaces, especially on roadsides and along foot paths, in order to prevent muggings which are common in cropped areas during the planting season. “I am not sure if I will plant this season because last year my maize was slashed by council workers,” said Roddy Magaya from Budiriro.
Environmentalists have also added their concerns over poor tillage methods by the urban farmers which include planting in wetlands, stream bank cultivation and the use of polluting chemicals which threaten human and environmental health. There have been calls for urban farmers to adopt crop rotation and organic practices in order to minimise damage to the soil and water supply.
In spite of this, urban farmers have remained defiant. According to an AGRITEX report in 2009, 10% of land in Harare was used for urban farming.
The urban authorities have voiced support for the practice as long as it is conducted in an orderly way with permission being sought from the correct authorities. The late Harare Metropolitan Resident Minister Cde David Karimanzira stated in an interview in 2010, that urban farming boosted food security, noting that district administrators had been tasked to ensure that all the urban farmers had access to land and inputs. In Bulawayo, great strides have been made with the city council incorporating a policy supporting UA into its master plan. The Municipal Development Partnership has facilitated dialogue between a range of urban agriculture stakeholders including farmers, city planners, the municipal authorities and NGOs and helped to develop National Guidelines for Urban Agriculture with support from FAO in 2010.
However, it remains to be seen whether urban farming will stand the test of time as developers, council and environmentalists take a tougher stance against the practice.
Picture: Urban farmer Mrs Mhete in her fields, Mabvuku. She grows many different crops for her own use and for sale, from which she makes a regular income. (Anna Brazier)