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Economic Woes Force Zimbabweans Turn to Urban Crops

With the growing economic difficulties Zimbabwe faces, urban dwellers are planting crops in city lots to make a living and feed their families.

There was a time when faced with a drought, urban dwellers in Zimbabwe were forbidden to use precious water for their lawns or for washing their cars. But as the country's economy continues to weaken and the cost of living rises, more and more people in the cities and towns are using large amounts of water for growing crops on their properties and wherever they can. And, more are hoping for an increase in rain because while some use city water, most of them rely on rainfall for their crops.

In the capital Harare most vacant pieces of land have been turned into corn fields - a staple crop which has become increasingly scarce because of successive droughts in the country.

Urban cultivation of crops is not a new development in Zimbabwe. But, in the past, it was the preserve of low-income earners.

One "new urban farmer'" who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity says he expects to harvest enough to feed his family and to sell the surplus. His lush crop is in stark contrast to a neighboring plot were the corn does not look healthy. The difference, he explains, is that he can afford the expensive fertilizers while his neighbor cannot.

The Harare municipality used to put up notices on areas where people were not allowed to cultivate crops. Those who disregarded the notices would have their crops slashed by municipal workers. But now it seems city authorities are turning a blind eye to the widespread violations of the law. Attempts to get a comment from city hall were unsuccessful.

The government recently allocated plots to some families in Harare on farms on the outskirts of the city that were acquired for urban expansion. The Metropolitan Resident Minister for the city, Witness Mangwende, was quoted by the state-owned daily newspaper The Herald as saying urban agriculture is "part and parcel of the national land reform program" launched in 2000.