Urban Agriculture can Help Solve Urban Food Shortages
Zimbabwe is experiencing a high population growth rate, environmental degradation and rural-urban migration that aggravate the sustainability of the current food production, consumption and availability particularly in urban areas
Zimbabwe is experiencing a high population growth rate, environmental degradation and rural-urban migration that aggravate the sustainability of the current food production, consumption and availability particularly in urban areas.
Cities are experiencing great difficulties in creating sufficient employment opportunities and this has led to high unemployment and very poor living conditions in the slum areas. Population growth in Zimbabwe is combined with a gradual shift in the locus of poverty from rural to urban areas.
Large numbers of rural residents migrate to cities with the hope of finding a more promising future through employment opportunities. This is despite the fact that our cities are encountering difficulties in creating employment opportunities and fail to provide adequate basic services for the rapidly growing urban population.
This has led to high unemployment and very poor living conditions. The urban poor are left with no option but to tap from the environment thus relying on the informal sector and unstable intermittent jobs for their survival. Unfortunately urban agriculture becomes one of their survival strategies.
More importantly it enables them to use their traditional attachment to the land to help them in the transition. Worldwide the importance of urban farming is progressively being recognised by international organisations like UNCED, UNCHS (Habitat), FAO (Food and Agricultural organisation and CGIAR (International agricultural research centres. This unprecedented augmentation of urban farming incessantly divulge that urban farming is not just a problem to be prohibited and restricted but has a number of benefits and can provide important answers to key challenges encountered by Zimbabwean cities.
It benefits the economy, environment, and well being of those active in the industry, as well as residents who consume the products. It plays a significant function in programs and projects that target health and nutrition, the environment, enterprise development, income generation, water and sanitation, youth and women, food production and supply.
It can be considered as an integrated part of feasible strategies for sustainable and equitable urban development. In the past, only people in low income suburbs 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. 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 around Zimbabwe because they have realised the potential of this industry to ensure food security.
Fambidzanayi Permaculture Centre in Dzivaresekwa and Musikavanhu Project in Budiriro have been successfully involved in urban farming. Urban farming is now seen as a solution to ending food shortages and poverty gripping many families.
Furthermore, it should be noted that urban agriculture is not a relic of the past that will fade away but is an integral part of the urban system. Historically, our economy is agriculturally based and the cultivation of staple food crops by urban households is as old as the human settlements themselves.
Mazuruse and Masiya in their book Urban Agriculture and Land Conflicts in Zimbabwe (2010) point out that urban cultivation in Zimbabwe dates back to the formation of the first colonial cities. This reflects that farming is historical and rooted in our societies. In other words it is our identity as Africans. Worse still as Zimbabweans, it is our major source of food and one of our regional responsibility.
Many are against this idea of embracing urban farming at the backdrop of the Land Reform Programme.
Relying on the supply of food from rural areas shows signs of dependency which are detrimental to the sustainability of the city. Capitalising on urban farming minimises rural dependency and reduces the cost of supplying and distributing food to urban areas.
Agricultural produce from rural areas will then be relegated for the export market which can act as a generator of the much needed foreign currency. My fellow planners and the general public are crying for the sustainable development of cities and also the development of green cities.
But history and experience tells me that you can’t initiate sustainable development when stomachs are empty. Even when the initiative to green the city through growing of trees in Harare was adopted a year ago, it has died a natural death as almost 90 percent of the trees were destroyed. Urban farming cannot only reduce the negative environmental impacts of urban growth, but can even help improve the urban environment.
The environmental health benefits of urban greening through urban farming include reduced temperatures, increased humidity, and improved air quality, sense of well-being and noise reduction. Urban farming as result can be an antidote to the aspect of green cities. In most low-income neighbourhoods of Zimbabwe like Budiriro, Glen Norah, and Kuwadzana in Harare; Njube and Makokoba in Bulawayo, open spaces of many kinds attract refuse and are unhealthy.
Urban farming can clean and maintain them, produce food, green them to improve the quality of the environment, and help free them of anti-social behaviour all at very little cost to the city councils and municipality. The improved appearance of these sites is invariably a source of community pride as evidenced in areas like Glen Norah and Budiriro. Properly maintained urban agriculture can be a visual asset to any site.
Smit, Nasr and Ratta notes that urban farming often exploits unused resources in the city like wastewater, solid waste and vacant lots and put idle land to productive use. It is also one of many techniques that can be employed to reduce the vulnerability, waste, and other problems facing cities. It includes diverse activities that use nature for the benefit of people, such as gardening, livestock raising, fruit growing and can even improve the supply of drinking water.
Urban farming also provides a productive way of using waste and wastewater and can play a role in the maintenance of open green spaces thus reducing the related public costs. Notable examples are the residents in Kambuzuma and Kuwadzana Extension who collect waste and rubbish from piles and spread it in their fields for compost. Climate change also adds to the challenges faced by cities and is recognised as one of the most serious environmental, societal and economic challenges.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) indicates that climate change inexplicably affect people in rural areas.
l Shingai T Kawadza is a final year BSc (Hons) student in Rural and Urban Planning at the University of Zimbabwe.