Zim poor ignore ban on urban farming as food prices climb

HARARE – Urban Zimbabweans, facing soaring food prices, are increasingly defying a government order not to grow crops in cities and towns ahead of the new agricultural season.
 
The government early this year banned urban farming in undesignated areas as part of a clean-u

p campaign, saying it was contributing to soil erosion, siltation of dams and providing cover for criminals.

Harare City town clerk, Nomutsa Chideya, said residents would only be permitted to cultivate on the outskirts of the capital on earmarked farms.

“We will take action against people growing crops in the city because that is against our by-laws,” Harare council spokesperson, Leslie Gwindi, told IRIN. 

But with the arrival of the rains in the last few weeks, many city residents have ignored the threat and are busy digging and sowing on patches of waste ground, and will use the harvest – however tiny – to cover part of their household food bills.

On some plots around Harare, healthy knee-high maize can already be seen. And it’s not just the urban poor who are out wielding their hoes – even in the affluent northern suburbs crops are being grown on vacant pieces of land.

Loshto Chimutalama, whose maize plot is unfortunately next to Mabelereign police camp, said with food shortages rocking Zimbabwe, it did not make sense to ban urban agriculture.

“Right now, the economy has been run into the ground, and people in urban areas can hardly make ends meet. There is a lot of unemployment in the country and some of us are surviving on the maize and other crops that we grow. I cannot listen to anybody who tells me not to feed myself and my family,” he explained.

The police so far have not seemed particularly interested in Chimutalama’s blatant lawbreaking. Part of the reason is that at several police and army barracks around the city, low-paid constables and soldiers are also defying the ban.

Mbuya Shava, an elderly woman who lives with her four orphaned grandchildren, said she had managed to feed them in part through her annual maize and sweet-potato harvest.

“Maize meal has become so expensive that I cannot afford to buy it from the shops. I have no option but to grow my own food,” she commented.

Aid workers estimate that at least four million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – will face food shortages between now and the next harvest, beginning early next year.

Urban Zimbabweans, struggling for several years with triple digit inflation and the most basic of shortages, have seen food prices continue to climb while the value of their salaries has plummeted.

The government blames western economic “sanctions” imposed following its controversial and violent fast-track land reform programme in 2000. The opposition, whose stronghold are the urban centres, accuses the government of long-running economic mismanagement.

According to the watchdog Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, an average family needs $11.6 million (US$483) a month to cover basic household expenses.

Most Zimbabweans earn a salary of around $3 million (US $125), nevertheless better off than the 70 percent of people who are unemployed.

Mike Davies, the chairman of the Harare Ratepayers Association, told IRIN that it was outrageous for the government and councils to ban urban agriculture at a time when the country was grappling with food shortages.

“The authorities are engaging residents in a game of deception when they say they are allocating plots for urban agriculture,” he alleged.

“Residents who want pieces of plots to grow crops have been told to visit their district offices but officials there profess ignorance about the existence of such a scheme. Given the food crisis that we are facing, it is criminal for a government
and local authorities to bar people from producing food,” he said.

Davies urged residents to grow food on what open spaces they could find, but to avoid ecologically damaging stream bank cultivation.

“The people should grow food in order to feed their families and they should be prepared to defend their crops when the authorities attempt to cut them down,” he added. — IRIN

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