Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe: a photo story

Over the last few weeks the team from Chikombedzi, Triangle, Matobo, Masvingo, Chatsworth and Mvurwi have been exploring the growth of urban agriculture and its implications for wider food systems. They have talked to many urban producers and taken photos of their enterprises. This week’s blog is a photo story that compiles a selection of (many) images that were shared through WhatsApp, together with some case studies of different urban farmers – including backyard producers, those who farm in open spaces and those with titled plots (see earlier blog).

Investment in intensification of agriculture in urban plots is essential. Space is limited and production has to be maximised. This means ensuring a year-round source of water. In Chikombedzi township in the Lowveld Bigson Hasani has dug a deep well and has invested in a submersible solar pump, powered by a panel erected in the plot (see photos below). The same applies to the Matobo Dace project near the police camp in Kezi growth point in Matabeland (see lead photo). This means vegetable and maize production can increase from a seasonal addition to a core enterprise. Collective projects such as Matobo Dace become centres where training occurs too.

Mrs Moyo from Maphisa has a successful garden plot. After finishing building the house in the township she started growing vegetables to supplement her income as an extension worker and to provide for her three children. She grows vegetables, tomatoes and peppers, selling bundles to vendors from the township and making around 320 South African Rand each month.

Pumping to a Jojo tank from a submersible solar pump in a backyard well is the basis of Pastor Uragu’s garden in Chikombedzi. He grows sugar cane, tomatoes and vegetables, supplying the local township. His garden project was established in 2011. He sells to vendors in town, but also the vegetables supply relish for church gatherings. The garden is 20 x 40 m in size, but is highly productive. He wishes to intensify further with drip irrigation if he can get enough profit for investment.

Morgan Mukahihwa and his wife have a garden at the back of a hospital house in Triangle. He has now retired, but his wife is still working as a nurse aide at Colin Saunders hospital. They have six children, all of whom have completed secondary education. In addition to vegetables they also have chickens on their plot and 50 are sold for each batch. From the garden and chicken production earnings they bought a Mazda 323 car.

Mr Chiramba from Chatsworth has a resettlement farm and an urban plot. He produces vegetables in his urban stand to sell to Rufaro school and the huge church gatherings that happen nearby. He finds this easier and more efficient than using his rural farm. He has invested in a well, a pump and uses drip irrigation, which was paid for by a relative in the diaspora. He comments how prices of inputs are going up every day and he insists that he is paid in US dollars. This puts off some, but local currency is worthless he explains. Money from the horticulture project has paid for his children’s school fees, as well as provided for the investment on the plot. Most recently he has purchased a Jojo tank for water storage and has built pig sties for a piggery project.

Maize production in open spaces has grown hugely in and around towns. These sites are along roadsides, in abandoned industrial areas and in areas designated for building. For example, Mrs Moyo from Masvingo has five 200m squared plots scattered around – some near a dam site, the others near the steelmakers. As a widow with three young boys she has to provide food and she seeks out plots through local connections. She grows maize, nyimo, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, sugar beans and vegetables. She even managed to get some seed and other inputs from the Pfumvudza programme this year to help her. The maize from the field in the photo below on the outskirts of Masvingo has been harvested and the cobs taken to the homestead for safe storage and later sale.

In the same way, Mrs Mtisi also from Masvingo explains how her farming – both backyard and in open spaces along the Mucheke river – feed her family of five kids (two in Form 1, the others in primary). This has been especially important as her husband lost his job at Zimplats. Profits from farming has meant they have been able to complete their house and they can even support relatives with extra food. As discussed in last week’s blog, such urban production of maize and other staples is essential for food security in towns these days, and is undercutting sales from the rural areas.

In Chikombedzi, Mr Ndahwi produces significant quantities of maize in his backyard plot. This is stored and sold, as well as used for home consumption.

Millers such as K Jere from Masvingo are setting up in town as more and more maize is being produced in urban areas. People can then bring their shelled maize grain to be milled into flour.

Some urban farmers specialise, as there is a limit to how many vegetables, tomatoes and other standard crops can be grown and sold. In some areas, chillies have become a popular niche crop, while in other areas tree nurseries are invested in. The demand for certain trees grew in the pandemic, as local treatments required lemon in particular. The pandemic also increased demand for onions, garlic and ginger, as well as local herbs.

Mr Soko from Mvurwi has invested in lemon trees and during the pandemic had a roaring trade.

Meanwhile in Chikombedzi, a number of people are growing chillies encouraged by demand from farmers for ‘chilli cake’, which if burned can repel elephants. Some are being supported by the Gonarezhou trust, while others are doing it independently.

Mr Katerere from Triangle started growing fruit trees in the backyard of his company house in 2014. He was laid off but now survives from this business. He has learned to graft lemon, lime, orange, mango, avocado and more. There is big demand from farmers from Triangle estate, Mkwasine and Hippo Valley. At one time, he explains, he sold USD800 worth of seedlings to one estate worker who has now established a huge orchard at his home in Zaka.

Green Paradise nursery in Mvurwi town was started about ten years ago at a very small scale. In the last few years it has expanded massively. Gibson Ndiseni supplies both exotic and indigenous trees and flowers to locals, and now supplies gum tree seedlings to tobacco companies operating in the area in large quantities.

Urban gardening, especially specialised nurseries, makes money. Mr Katerere from Triangle bought a kombi with the proceeds. Other urban farmers explained how their kids went to school from the profits.

However, the small-scale backyard plots have limits of space, and the open space farming remains illegal and highly insecure. It is only those with titled plots near towns who can intensify, invest and have enough land to diversify. Mrs Mpofu from nearby Masvingo has such a 6.5 hectare plot at Morningside, which she and her now late husband bought in 1981. For cropping, she focuses on irrigated vegetables and maize. Two ha of her plot is irrigated, and since 2019 this has included a portion of drip irrigation.

In addition, she has invested in livestock production, including a herd of cattle and a number of pigs. Maize is useful for livestock feed and for home consumption, but she doesn’t sell to GMB. Her main commercial crop these days is garlic, and last year she sold 220kgs. Demand has boomed due to the pandemic and she sells directly to Spar, as well as a contract company. She is a retired teacher and manages the whole plot, with the help of some workers and one of her children.

Like many urban farmers, Mrs Mpofu also has chickens. In her case – again because of having capital and a larger plot – she has been able to expand production in recent years.

The final photo is of a group of women from Runyararo high density suburb in Masvingo having a discussion on urban farming as part of the research. All have open space plots growing maize, sweet potatoes and other staples, as well as backyard gardens, where vegetables dominate production. Women are central to urban agriculture and often manage the plots, both in the backyard areas as well as in open spaces. As an independent source of income such activities are essential for providing for the family, and this was especially the case during the pandemic.

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Thanks to all the urban farmers for sharing their stories and showing us their plots. Iyleen Judy Bwerinofa, Jacob Mahenehene, Makiwa Manaka, Bulisiwe Mulotshwa, Felix Murimbarimba, Moses Mutoko and Vincent Sarayi collected the data and shared the photos.

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