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Councils must clarify urban farming

Her fear mirrors the anxiety of many urban farmers in the country.

 

The issue of urban agriculture (UA) remains quite contentious and has over the years raised temperatures with frequent reports of running battles between residents and council authorities.

 

In some cases, people have had their near ripe crops slashed leaving many devastated and facing serious hunger.

 

As a result, many people in the urban centres, just like Katiyo, are confused because of the lack of clarity on the government’s position on UA.

 

With studies indicating 75% of Zimbabweans in urban centres as poor and 47% as very poor, many cannot afford most food items purchased from shops, especially those that they can produce on their own.

 

Over the years, many have come to depend on their agricultural ventures for food relief.

 

“Being an unemployed widow is not easy, especially with so many mouths to feed,” said Katiyo. “I have invested the little savings I had in this project so you can imagine the kind of trouble we would be in if the council guys decided to come and destroy our crops.”

 

The issue of UA is one that has frequently generated a lot of debate in the country. Some people are calling for its ban while others fully support it arguing that it has the potential to alleviate extreme poverty scenarios.

 

Among the international organisations that support UA are the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Agriculture Research Centres (GGIAR) and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

 

On the local scene, Environment Africa has offered support to a number of UA projects in a manner that clearly shows their acknowledgement and encouragement of it.

 

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers’ Association (Zela) embarked on a programme that was intended to “sensitise local government to accept urban agriculture as urban land use, to assist local authorities to promote sustainable urban agriculture and incorporate it in their policies and plans”.

 

It appears however that the Zela programme’s objectives are still pretty far from being realised.

 

UA activities have often been blamed for worsening environmental degradation with many people reported as having laun-ched their projects on environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands and river banks.

Some farmers are highly reliant on chemicals and pesticides which often pollute water sources and tire the soil.

 

Enda Zimbabwe asserted that without appropriate conservation measures, UA will pose a serious threat to the environment.

 

Environment Management Age-ncy (EMA) spokesperson Steady Kangata said UA activities are not illegal in Zimbabwe but are prohibited when they exploit ecologically sensitive areas such as wetlands and hilltops.

 

“The problem comes when people start planting on areas where no agricultural activities should take place,” said Kangata.

 

“Otherwise the legislation makes provision for urban agriculture. The other problem we have is the competition for space between urban agricultural activities and infrastructural development.”

 

Because agriculture remains a major part of Zimbabweans and many people in urban centres have since ceased depending on food supplies from rural areas, it does not look like urban agriculture will be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

And honestly, the battles between the council and the people over the agricultural activities cannot be allowed to go on. That is why the responsible authorities should formulate a policy that clarifies to the people their position on the issue.

 

They should let people know which land to use for farming ventures and teach them good farming practices that do not ruin the environment.

 

The UA policy should pay special attention to issues like land use planning, waste management, public health and community development among others.

 

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