Thursday, November 17, 2011

Urban Farming A Mockery?: A View From Zimbabwe

Urban farming a mockery?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:00
Trymore Muderere
Zimbabwe Herald

Contemporary urban centres in the developing world are faced by a legion of challenges. Those that can be noted prima facie include: urban agriculture, urban poverty (at household level to local government level), urban informality, housing shortages, high population growth, environmental degradation, traffic congestion, lawlessness though not limited to infrastructure decay.

However, while all these are worthy looking into, many of these remain outside the scope of this series, since an attempt to address them all would make the task impossible. The main concern of this series is to put the problem of urban agriculture to task, with a view to set the agenda for debate and policy consideration to the fact that urban agriculture is an avoidable evil.

In order to throw an illumination of light in this discourse it is necessary that key terms governing the discussion be defined.

Agriculture to my understanding is the growing of crops and rearing of livestock for sale or for subsistence. This means that when one either rears animals or grows maize or madhumbe on a council open space or in a vlei for example in Mufakose, this person is an agricultural practitioner.

In the same way if one rears chickens in a backyard fowl run in an urban area this person is an agriculturalist. An urban area on the other hand is defined variously: economically, socially, politically or administratively. Out of interest focus can be drawn towards the economic dimension. An urban area has an economic base that is, non-agricultural.

This means an area that is based on agriculture is purely rural. This makes urban agriculture a non urban issue but a rural one. Embracing urban agriculture would be nothing less than ruralising the city - a phenomenon I would call "rurbanisation". Urban areas are not primary economies, but secondary ones that ought to process various raw materials into finished products than being reduced into grandiose producers of maize.

Promoting this practice would be turning urban residents into urban villagers. This is the reason why some American and European authors are still calling us third world nations, it because of these practices. Yet we are developing nations.

To delimit the debate further, it is interesting to define urban planning by way of the legal frame work that sanctions planning practice in Zimbabwe. According to the preamble of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act, Chapter 29:12 of 1996, planning is concerned with the following objects: " . . . to provide for the planning of regions, districts and local areas with the object of conserving and improving the physical environment and in particular promoting health, safety, order, amenity, convenience and general welfare . . . "

These are the primary concerns of planning. Hence, it should be noted that planning is a rational profession, guided and informed by clear and crystallised planning objectives as set in the preamble to fore cited Regional Town and Country Planning Act.

Hence planners who advocate for urban agriculture to be embraced in Zimbabwe are a clear indication of popular influences. It is also a challenge to the raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for existence) of the very institution, profession and society they serve.

It is thus against this background that urban agriculture should be put to task. As sanctioned in the Act, Urban land use planning initially provided for exclusive land uses, but in 1992 through the Statutory Instrument 216 it then unilaterally provided for mixed land uses like the backyard industries.

However, these could be allowed through special planning procedures and would be determined on the basic of noxiousness. This implies that in urban Zimbabwe designated land can only be used for residential, industrial, commercial and recreational use. However, in Zimbabwe Urban agriculture has led to abuse of special planning zones.

Under the Regional Town and Country Planning Act aided by the Local Development Plans' use groups, the use of residential land, road reserve, wet lands or recreational land for urban agriculture (as is the practice in most Zimbabwean Cities and towns especially the capital Harare), therefore contradicts the provisions of the legislation that guides physical development in Zimbabwe.

However, there are other allied pieces of legislation like the Public Health Act Chapter 15:09 of the Laws of Zimbabwe. The Act excludes the use of residential areas for urban agricultural purposes for

its perceived nature as a source of disease transmission to humans.

This also tallies with the Regional Town and Country Planning Act's object of promoting order, health, safety and amenity. Furthermore, the Environmental Management Act also provides for the protection of environmentally sensitive environments, such as wetlands and certain passive and active open spaces.

In Harare these are often abused through urban agriculture. In one of my 2011 publications with the Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa (page 162-183) entitled, "Natural Co-existence or Confinement: Challenges in integrating birdlife concerns into urban planning and design for Zimbabwe", I note through a case study of Monavale Vlei, how urban agriculture is destroying an ecologically diverse urban wetland that is home to rare bird species. To this regard and in the spirit of the public interest I am of the belief that urban agriculture should be discouraged from taking root in our urban areas. The city of Harare is on record for destroying crops and I believe that must be extended to livestock and chickens including the prosecution of such "urban farmers". In this regard our urban local authorities should enforce prohibitive by-laws, which bar cultivation within urban confines, with only where necessary with the exception of vegetable gardens and growing of flowers.

Quite sadly, many sound planners in Zimbabwe have turned to populism joined by social workers of our time and are at the forefront of arguing that urban agriculture is a new urban issue that has to be integrated in urban land use planning so as to bolster the urban economy. What an error of the third type! There are a number of considerations that warrants urban agriculture's death sentence and these shall be discussed in the forthcoming sections of this series.

It should be understood that urban agriculture though a contemporary urban challenge, is not a planning problem. Rather it is a management issue. This means urban managers should deal with it especially through the visible hand - the Operation Murambatsvina kind of way. Urban residents should not be rewarded for flouting council by-laws. One of the most cited examples is how developed or so called first world nations have embraced urban agriculture.

The problem is with people transcribing foreign tablets for a local ailment. The solution is neither there nor in urban agriculture. People should appreciate that cultures are different and climates are different too, what works in America, Europe and with the Asian Tigers may not necessarily work here, in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is a land locked country our economy is agro-based because we have the prime land for that and not urban land. Many of these countries we are copying have scarce arable land some are polar nations, while others are Island nations so we should understand why they are going the urban agriculture way. Copying them is similar to a person who wears a right shoe to the left leg and vise versa (kupfeka banana).

Furthermore, urban agriculture is a mockery to the planning's zoning control. Yet land use planning is very clear on designating land to various land uses. We have farms with millions of hectares of prime land throughout the country, why can't we do agriculture there? I know populist critics would want to argue about the ecological footprint of producing and transporting that food into the city.

Trymore Muderere is a final year student of BSc Honours Degree in Rural and Urban Planning at the University of Zimbabwe.

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