The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
MR Samson Mangezi (54) is a resident of Pumula North suburb in Bulawayo. He works for a security company in the city but supplements his earnings through horticulture products that he grows at a self-allocated sprawling piece of land that he has demarcated with tree branches and scrap metal.
He grows everything that he sees fit, from sugarcane, tomatoes, vegetables, onions, carrots and all other vegetables that people consume.
There is no dam close to where his garden is but it is always lush green. His source of water is a stream that cuts across the garden and is fed from burst sewer stitches that are always bursting angry as they can no longer hold the pressure exerted on them by a swelling urban population. The water is therefore never clear. It is greyish-green in colour and it sometimes emits a smell that is not so pleasant to the nostrils. The flow knows no season like most rivers and streams as sewer bursts have become fashionable and the city council no longer cares about repairing them especially if they are not in people’s yards.
The incessant noise from residents that characterised the sewer bursts responding to time and an increasing population has fizzled down and now people have gotten used to the unpleasant stench emanating from the streams as they flow.
Mr Mangezi spends most of the time in his garden when he knocks off from his security duties in the early morning and residents flock to his garden to buy vegetables for home consumption while those who are into vending see it cheaper to buy from him since there is no transport involved and more so prices are negotiated.
“I nurtured the passion for farming when I was still young. I used to help my parents do it and now because of the economic hardships I ventured into it here to supplement what I am getting at work. I however, realised that if it is taken seriously, farming can be a very good business venture.
“The challenge that we have however, is that we do not have clean water to water our crops. We rely on sewage bursts and the water has been able to sustain our activities. The water is not pleasant to the eye and the nose but we have nothing to do, in fact we scramble for it as evidenced by so many gardens that you see up and down the sewer stream,” he said.
He said he was among the first people to set up a garden and a number of those that followed were into nurseries for seedlings that were sold to people. It therefore makes competition for fresh farm produce minimal.
“Most of the vegetables that people buy and eat from market are grown in the very same conditions. As you can see my tomatoes and vegetables are very healthy. The soil here is very fertile but the water we use is dirty of course but it has nutrients. The other challenge is that there are thieves who help themselves from the labour of our hands and that is sad,” he said with a smile.
He said there were stressful times when there were no sewer bursts and no flow in the stream. However, he said such episodes do not last long but the challenge was that due to water scarcity some have resorted to blocking the sewer water from flowing down so that they use the water for their gardens.
The nearby sewer bursts therefore serve as tributary stream flow sources. Such is the situation not only in Pumula but in most suburbs in town where the need for alternative ways of survival for a growing number of urban dwellers who are faced by the harsh economy characterised by a steep unemployment rate has given the impetus for the continued growth of urban agriculture.
The coronavirus scourge and the subsequent lockdown has also contributed to a growing number of farming activities in urban centres as a means of survival as companies have been forced to operate minimally while some have closed shop.
In the past all agricultural activities were confined to rural areas and farmlands on the outskirts of the major cities and towns but factors related to socio-economic changes in the country have conspired at a surprisingly fast rate shifting the land use patterns in urban areas.
The reasons for this sudden shift where open urban spaces have been taken up for fields can be located in a number of reasons that range from high population growth rate, unemployment and rural-urban migration that aggravate the sustainability of the current food production.
The high rural-urban migration rate has seen urban areas experiencing great difficulties in creating sufficient employment opportunities and this has led to high unemployment and very poor living conditions for many.
Population growth in Zimbabwe has not been reciprocated by infrastructure development and employment creation. In fact, there has been a gradual decrease in the number of companies that are operating at full throttle. The bulk of companies have buckled under the weight of the economic recession brought about by coronavirus.
This has not stopped rural-urban migration where people still hope to find a more promising future through employment opportunities.
This has led to high unemployment, poverty and squalid living conditions for many families. The urban poor are left with no option but to tap from the environment and relying on the informal sector and unstable intermittent jobs for their survival. Urban agriculture therefore becomes one of their survival strategies.
More importantly it enables them to use their traditional attachment to land to help them in the transition and in towns and cities the market is readily available. Worldwide the importance of urban farming is progressively being recognised by international organisations like UNCED, UNCHS (Habitat), FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation and CGIAR (International agricultural research centres. This unprecedented augmentation of urban farming should remind local authorities that urban farming is not just a problem to be prohibited and restricted but has a number of benefits and can provide important answers to key challenges encountered by Zimbabwean families in cities.
It benefits the economy, environment, and well-being of those active in the industry, as well as residents who consume the products. It plays a significant function in programmes and projects that target health and nutrition, the environment, enterprise development, income generation, water and sanitation, youth and women and aids the food production and supply chain.
It can therefore be considered as an integrated part of feasible strategies for sustainable and equitable urban development. In the past, only people in low income suburbs were actively involved in urban cultivation but the situation has since changed with green belts being seen in all suburbs including the most affluent areas.
Quite a number of non-governmental organisations, even local companies are pouring substantial amounts of money into pilot projects on urban agriculture being implemented in a number of towns around Zimbabwe because they have realised the potential of this industry to ensure food security.