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Zimbabwe’s Hard-Pressed City Dwellers Cultivate Urban Agriculture

In Zimbabwe, a likely reduction in food assistance by the World Food Program has many consumers wondering how they have enough to eat. Reporter Taurai Shava looks at efforts to grow more food in the town of Gweru.

Despite bylaws restricting urban agriculture because of its perceived side-effects, more and more Gweru residents, like others in urban areas across the country, are planting crops hoping to provide their families with food amid severe shortages and ever-rising living costs.

Ignoring the mid-morning summer heat, housewife Winnie Munanzvi of Gweru's Mkoba 2 high-density suburb digs with perseverance on a small patch of land on the vast open space adjacent to the Mkoba 11 high density suburb.
Munanzvi is preparing her small field to plant a crop of maize. Her frenzied effort reflects her awareness of the food crisis that the country is facing – and the limits of aid.

She says urban agriculture used to be looked down upon as a practice limited to urban poor, but with staple foods like maize meal hard to find or out of reach of those on limited incomes, even those with jobs are turning to gardening.

"In the past," he said, "the growing of crops on the small pieces of land in urban areas is something that was looked down upon. For one to be seen going to work on those small fields was degrading. But now raising crops on these small fields has become very important because of the hunger that is stalking most people. Most working people never used to have anything to do with growing crops on these small fields; It was for housewives like myself. Nowadays, even those people in formal employment are also scrambling for the small pieces of land to farm on. Some even engage other people to work on their pieces of land for them. These small pieces of land have become something very important. Often, there are wrangles over ownership of the small pieces of land. I believe urban agriculture has become a very important activity; virtually everyone now wants a small piece of land to farm on."

Another person growing food here is Partson Mabika, an officer at the Gweru branch of a state-controlled enterprise. He says he has been growing crops on his small piece of land for several years now.

"I started practicing urban agriculture several years back," said Mabika. "Most people used to think that growing crops on small pieces of land in town was done by those people who did not like to go to their rural homes to farm, but this is no longer the case. There are a lot of people who are preparing their small pieces of land for planting because they have now realized that this is helpful. When you have grown your own food crops, you won't need to spend a lot on buying food. So, at the moment, most people are busy preparing their small fields for planting, and they are also looking for seed because they know this will benefit them in the end."

While acknowledging the growing importance of urban gardens, a lecturer named Masaka of Midlands State University's natural resources department says by-laws restricting gardens were intended to promote proper land use.

He says that despite food shortages and soaring costs, such laws must not be flouted, as doing so could devastate common urban lands.

Masaka says research is needed into ways to balance people's needs with the preservation of natural resources. However, in the face of economic crises and widespread hunger, local authorities who used to strictly enforce such bylaws are now tolerating urban crops.