Zimbabwe: Urban agriculture boosts food security, but city authorities not impressed (AllAfrica)

| March 9, 2015

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Rural Zimbabweans have always studied rainfall patterns with keen interest.

But, as blistering temperatures precede the onset of the annual rains in the country, new urban farmers are now showing the same interest. The city-based farmers cultivate small pieces of urban land that provide much needed food security for their families – and they are as dependent on the rains as their rural cousins.

Rural farmers typically grow crops on large pieces of land. But city dwellers practice intensive agriculture on small plots between houses, businesses, and sports fields. They plough and plant riverbanks, hilltops, storm drains and roadsides to supplement their livelihoods.

Constance Zirangwa has a thriving one-and-a-half hectare field of maize next to the Italian Sports Club in Mabelreign, a northeastern suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. The 62-year-old grandmother has farmed her plot since 2009. Last season she harvested nearly two tonnes of maize. She lives with seven relatives at her home in Makafose, more than 10 kilometres from her plot. Mrs. Zirangwa says that urban farmers face several challenges, including accessing fertilizers and seed, and paying for labour.

Percy Toriro is the president of the Zimbabwe Institute of Regional and Urban Planners. He says Harare has fertile soils and receives good rainfall. Mr. Toriro says: “The [original] settlers saw the suitability of farming in the city from the beginning. [In eastern suburbs of] the city, [the] council [has] allocated most residents with allotments for agriculture … Historically, agriculture has always taken place in towns, including in Zimbabwe.”

But some authorities take a less positive view of urban farming. Mr. Steady Kangata is a spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s Environment Management Agency. He says unplanned agriculture can cause flash floods when it rains. He adds, “Chemical fertilizers can also be washed into water bodies, [providing] nutrients that promote the growth of weeds in our water bodies.”

Michael Chideme is the principal communications officer for the city of Harare. He says that, although the city council supports urban agriculture so city dwellers can supplement their diets, farmers should not grow crops on roadsides, steep slopes, river banks or wetlands.

Urban farmer Jossam Ali has different concerns. Mr. Ali worries that new housing co-operatives are beginning to use nearly all the open land. He says, “Slowly the open spaces are being eaten up by housing and soon we will be forced to look for land elsewhere.”

There is another significant problem – authorities sometimes take actions that hurt farmers if they grow crops in the wrong place. Mrs. Zirangwa explains: “There are times when we lose the crop to council employees who slash our maize.” There are frequent disputes over who actually owns the land which urban farmers use to grow their crops.

But for now, Mrs. Zirangwa is benefiting from her land. She says, “The plot has helped me feed my family. I have never bought any maize meal for all these years. Even in drier years I have managed to harvest enough to take me to the following year.”

To read the article on which this story was based, Zimbabwe: ‘Master Farmer’ Comes to Town, go to: http://allafrica.com/stories/201501220095.html

Photo credit: FAO