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By Ruth Butaumocho, www.herald.co.zw
NDABENI MOYO who stays in Mufakose says he cannot wait for the rainy season to begin so that he can start planting maize on his small piece of land along High Glen Road in Harare.
Although he did not harvest much last year owing to poor rains, he is optimistic that this year, the gods will smile on him and he will harvest enough to keep his family going for months.
He admits that it has been a hard year, not only for himself, for his neighbours as well who not so long ago had to go for days without a decent meal.
As the new farmer waits in anticipation for the beginning of the rainy season, urban dwellers are also busy making preparations on their small patches of land, which have significantly contributed to the upkeep of many families.
Families who had no patches of land before have invaded areas like community football pitches, dump sites and any unused piece of land.
Ndabeni is one of the many urban people who now rely on urban farming to supplement their meagre incomes as economic hardships dig deeper.
Thousands of retrenched workers living in the cities are now looking to farming as a viable option of sustaining their families.
Although a few years ago, urban agriculture was mainly carried out by women and children, the current economic hardships has seen more men becoming actively involved to supplement the family income.
"I started going with my family to the fields two years ago after realising that on their own they could not cope. Many of our neighbours have since followed suit," said Ndabeni.
In a good year, Ndabeni and his family harvest about 20 bags of maize, and this has saved the family from buying food especially maize, over the years.
In Harare, more than 20 000 urban farmers managed to harvest some maize to feed their families last year, although the yields could have been better if the country had received good rains.
Urban farming is now being seen as a solution to ending food shortages and poverty that has gripped many families in urban the areas.
For years, farming has not been regarded as an urban land-use and local authorities have been quick to destroy crops grown by residents on open spaces.
But poverty and unemployment has exacerbated the demand for land in urban areas, with some residents cultivating on prohibited places. Although local authorities have not changed their by-laws on urban farming, most of them are now helping with the allocation of land to those intending to grow crops.
Last year, the Government allocated 60 000 hectares of land for urban agriculture in Harare in a bid to eradicate poverty in urban areas. This was after Government realised that many families in the urban areas were actually surviving on the maize planted on the small patches of land.
Giving the land, the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Cde Ignatius Chombo, said the Government had set aside land for urban farming because it had the potential of eradicating poverty in cities.
In the past, only people in high-density areas were actively involved in urban cultivation but the situation has since changed with green belts being seen in all suburbs including the most affluent areas.
Delegates to the recently held Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe’s 61st Annual Conference, attended by Cde Chombo, executive mayors, town clerks, council committees and other representatives, underlined that intra-urban and peri-urban agriculture contributes to urban food security, poverty reduction, local economic development and sustainable development.
After deliberations on urban agriculture and other issues concerning local authorities, delegates made a declaration to promote and acknowledge urban agriculture.
The declaration known as the "Nyanga Declaration on Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture, Zimbabwe" re-affirms Government’s local authority and non-governmental organisation’s commitment to the improvement of urban management through promotion of urban agriculture in cities so as to enhance urban food security and address urban poverty among other issues.
The senior programme officer of Municipal Development Partnership, Mr Shingirayi Mushamba, said urban agriculture has become a successful enterprise over the years and is set to expand further, to become one of the fastest growing industries.
The Municipal Development Partnership is an active hands-on capacity-building facility that was established in 1991 with the World Bank as the executive agency, and with the support of bilateral and multilateral donors, to promote decentralisation and to foster capacity-building of African local governments.
He said the role of urban agriculture in alleviating poverty and food supply in cities as a complement to rural agriculture was becoming an important issue in the Sadc region’s economy.
"There is evidence that urban agriculture is increasing in many urban areas.
"Local authorities and the public in general should broaden their understanding of urban agriculture, which does not only entail growing maize but also includes rearing of animals and processing of food, among other activities," he said.
Mr Mushambi urged local authorities to plan and promote urban agriculture saying ignoring it would result in haphazard and indiscriminate farming throughout which, in the end, would create problems for local authorities.
At the moment, two notable groups namely Fambidzanayi Permaculture Centre in Dzivaresekwa and Musikavanhu Project in Budiriro have been successfully involved in urban agriculture and have plans to expand the projects.
Most urban farming projects that have been implemented over the years have been successful mainly because urban areas have a greater potential for agriculture to prosper owing to the existence of the huge markets and reduced transport costs to the markets.
The availability of general knowledge and expertise about farming, as most experts in agriculture undesirably so, live in urban areas, make it easy for an urban farmer to acquire knowledge as and when he needs it.
Agricultural experts also noted that urban agriculture and peri-urban agriculture is one of the several tools for making productive use of urban open spaces, treating and recovering urban waste and managing freshwater resources more effectively.
Food growing sites in urban areas can be repositories of much re-usable household waste. Organic waste, which generally accounts for 20 percent of household waste, can be used as manure when composted.
Mr Mushambi noted that corporate organisations in the production of farming inputs have realised the significance of urban agriculture, hence the innovation of packaging seeds and fertilisers in smaller packets.
"At the moment, quite a number of non-governmental organisations even local companies are pouring substantial amounts of money into pilot projects on urban agriculture being implemented in a number of towns because they have realised the potential of this industry to ensure food security."
Local authorities should support high value intensive urban agriculture projects that have greater potential to create employment and wealth.
Once successfully implemented, urban agriculture has the potential of creating thousands of jobs.
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