Urban agriculture for food security…now valuable part of city life

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THE rain season is here and most Zimbabweans inspired by the Command Agriculture programme are busy in the fields.
However, urban farmers caught my attention this week.
All ‘idle’ land has been turned into small fields.
Agriculturalists estimate that half of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030.
This calls for improved crop and livestock production for food security in these cities.
However, with the onset of the rain season, it is now evident that most of the population in most cities and towns including Harare and Bulawayo are becoming more dependent on urban activities that include gardening, maize farming and poultry production.
While city planners have ignored urban agriculture for a long time, it has had its advantages for several families in most cities.
In the past, urban agriculture in Zimbabwe was a rare activity, but the situation has changed as lives of hundreds of people are being sustained through urban farming.
Urban farming took shape soon after independence when the Zimbabwean Government relaxed some of the repressive urban council bylaws.
Since then, according to the Urban Agriculture Forum of Zimbabwe, this type of farming has contributed immensely to food security among some poor urban households.
In November 1996, Heads of State and Government and their representatives gathered in Rome for the World Food Summit.
I attended that gathering.
A pledge was made at this meeting and it seems to be bearing fruit today in Zimbabwe.
Nations pledged their political will to achieve food security for all, eradicate hunger and reduce the number of undernourished people no later than 2015.
Through the success of the Command Agriculture programme, Zimbabwe is fulfilling this pledge.
The Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action laid down foundations for diverse paths to a common objective – food security at individual, household and national levels.
The recognition and support for indigenous people and their communities in pursuit of their economic and social development, with full respect for their identity, traditions, forms of social organisations and cultural values has been seen through the promotion of urban agriculture.
Laws that prohibit farming near rivers and streams are still enforced.
In the past, food shortages that were experienced in the country due to economic factors and droughts resulted in the flouting of these laws, often leading to clashes between urban farmers and municipal authorities.
Urban agriculture defined as ‘a system of land use for agricultural purposes for crop production and animal husbandry within the urban environment’ has become so popular and has virtually transformed land on the outskirts of most suburbs into greenbelts.
Environmentalists cited serious deforestation as people clear the land for farming activities.
Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, was in the forefront in formulating a policy in 1995 that encouraged urban agriculture.
The main objective of the policy was to enable the low-income earners to supplement their incomes as well as ensure effective utilisation of undeveloped land.
Urban agriculture was developed out of the practical need to supplement the meagre weekly and monthly earnings of most residents.
However, officials with some of these local authorities find themselves going against this general policy by ordering the destruction of crops in particular areas set aside for certain activities.
According to the Municipal Development Partnership for East and Southern Africa (MDP-ESA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has also been working with city councils on projects meant to promote urban agriculture, noted in a research that:
“In an ever more interdependent world, the global challenges of climate change, food and financial crises are putting pressure on food systems.
It is therefore ever more important to re-examine the resilience of small-holder agriculture and its great contribution both to local and global food security.
The vision for urban agriculture has been realised in many cities in the country and has prompted the establishment of an interdepartmental committees in most cities to examine the possibility of engaging in urban agriculture.”
In 2003, different ministers responsible for local government in eastern and southern Africa signed the Harare Declaration on Urban and Peri Urban Agriculture which acknowledged that although the urban farming was practised informally, without an appropriate policy, it played a significant role in promoting food security in urban communities.
Legal experts, however, said the Urban Councils Act should specifically provide for urban farming, because when such laws were enacted, urban agriculture had not grown into a major activity as is the case now.
However, regulations can be made in terms of these laws to permit farming in urban areas.
Section 227, Clause 81 (1) of the Third Schedule of the Urban Councils Act gives local authorities powers to make bylaws on a number of issues including prohibition or regulation of land cultivation and keeping of animals.
Other laws that impact on urban farming include the Regional Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29.12).
However, agriculturalists say future land use planning policies should accept urban agriculture as a necessary and invaluable part of city life.
Heads of State and Government at the Rome Food Summit declared that: “Food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure.
We reaffirm the importance of international co-operation and solidarity, as well as the necessity of refraining from unilateral measures not in accordance with the international law and the Charter of the United Nations and that endangers food security.”

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