Reports of battles between urban farmers and council authorities, most of which would have resulted from councils having directed the burning or slashing of people’s crops, are quite common.
Isn’t it about time people knew the policy and legislative framework as far as urban agriculture (UA) in Zimbabwe is concerned?
UA is an activity that has for years proved to be a viable source of livelihood for the poor, who happen to constitute the majority of the population.
Over the years the responsible authorities have made endless attempts to curb the practice, which some still like to think of as a rural phenomena, albeit with very little success.
The point some authorities seem to be missing is that people in urban settings engage in farming not because they enjoy the activity and feel the overwhelming urge to disregard the law, but primarily for sustenance purposes.
In a country like Zimbabwe where studies have revealed that 75% of the population is poor with 47% rated as “very poor”, UA has served as a coping mechanism for many.
Studies show that farming is the primary survival strategy for many poor households in Harare, and of course other urban set ups.
According to one case study, children aged less than five from farming households have higher rates of growth and weight than those from non-farming households.
An article by FAO entitled Fighting Poverty & Hunger: What Role For Urban Agriculture? says: “Urban agriculture can increase the resilience of some urban poor to external shocks and improve their access to fresh vegetables, fruits and animal products.”
That being said, it becomes necessary to also look at why there are increased calls to curb UA activities, a move that would no doubt put so many lives at stake.
Despite its benefits, UA has often been associated with environmental degradation.
Ninety percent of Harare farmers are reported as being highly dependant on chemicals and fertilisers while nearly a third of off-plot cultivation is said to be taking place near streams or swamps, factors that have heavily contributed to water pollution, mostly through runoff and leaching.
This can be attributed to the fact that the bulk of local farmers are still largely ignorant of good farming practices and the environmental implications of bad farming practices.
For instance, most of them appear oblivious of the dangers of misuse and excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides.
But this, we will credit to the government, which has not yet taken the time to ensure an enabling environment that pays special attention to environmentally friendly farming practices.
ENDA Zimbabwe has concluded that without the implementation of appropriate conservation measures, UA will pose a threat to the urban environment.
Most regrettably, the policy and legislative framework on UA is not clear in Zimbabwe, which leaves little room to make corrections and ensure people cater for their needs in a manner that does not adversely affect the environment.
The situation will only be corrected when government establishes policies on UA that guarantee farmers’ protection against eviction.
Only then will they have the incentive to care and take responsibility for the land they cultivate.
According to a study conducted by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association from 2003-04: “There are indeed many opportunities that exist in legislation for the practice of urban agriculture, contrary to popular belief that the law prohibits urban agriculture in Zimbabwe.”