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Zimbabwe Bans Urban Agriculture

Zimbabwe police have outlawed urban agriculture. The move will cause more hardships for city dwellers - especially the urban poor - who have relied on food grown on the plots as food prices continue to rise.

The message for those who want to engage in urban agriculture is simple: go to the country and work the land. In an interview on state-controlled Zimbabwe Television, police spokesperson, Edmore Veterai, said the crops of those who do not heed the warning will be destroyed, and that they risk arrest. He said because of the land reform program launched in 2000, there is enough land outside the cities for those who want to engage in food production.

Mr. Veterai stated that urban farming was causing land degradation and siltation, which he said is affecting the city's drinking water sources.

In the capital Harare, most vacant pieces of land have been turned into fields. Successive droughts and low production by new farmers have led to shortages of corn, the staple diet of the majority of Zimbabweans. Even when it is available, prices are extremely high.

Urban cultivation was not a new development in Zimbabwe, but in the past, it was the preserve of low-income earners. Things have changed, and the well-off have joined the practice.

Notices put up by the Harare city council designating areas where people could not cultivate were simply ignored. Those who disregarded the regulations faced the risk of their crops being slashed by municipal workers, but for many seasons the city authorities turned a blind eye to the widespread violations of the law.

A spokesperson for the Harare city council told the state controlled daily newspaper The Herald that people could still grow corn on their properties behind their houses, but not in front of them.

A Harare resident who has engaged in the practice for years said the move to ban urban agriculture is going to make life difficult for him and his family. "We did not have to buy corn for years, and now we are being forced to do so when everything is so expensive," said the man, who did not want to be identified. He called the ban "so insensitive."

Late last year, the government allocated plots to some Harare families on farms adjacent to the city, which were acquired for urban expansion. Then The Herald quoted the late Metropolitan Resident Minister for the city, Witness Mangwende, as saying such so-called "peri-urban" agriculture was "part and parcel of the national land reform program" - a reference to the country's controversial land redistribution program. It is not clear whether these "new urban farmers" will also be affected.