Over the past three weeks, police have demolished illegal structures and arrested informal traders in the country’s towns and cities in an ongoing crackdown the government has said is aimed at cleaning up urban centres. The operation has been condemned internationally, as about 200,000 people have been left homeless and livelihoods have been lost.
The police have now warned that growing crops in urban or periurban areas will no longer be allowed.
Faced with mounting poverty, acute food shortages and a chronic drought that has drastically reduced agricultural output, many urbanites had taken to cultivating the staple food, maize, and other small grains on patches of land near their homes.
Mthulisi Ncube, who lives in Sizinda township in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, had already started preparing small fields for the next planting season in October. According to experts, extensive farming was being done on land earmarked for cultivation purposes by the local authorities.
But police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told IRIN they were under government instructions not to allow any farming activities in urban areas, whether the land was designated for such purposes or not.
"The reason is very simple - one does not necessarily need some kind of expertise to understand - a lot of harm is being done to the environment. Why can’t those who want to cultivate crops go to rural areas, where people are being allocated farms under the land reform programme?" said Bvudzijena.
Small vegetable gardens outside people’s homes would not be affected, Bvudzijena added.
However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secretary for agriculture, Renson Gasela, said while he also disapproved of planting on undesignated land, especially amid a maze of houses in townships, he saw nothing wrong with farming in approved areas.
Gasela said urban cropping was a long-standing tradition in Zimbabwe, and he feared that banning the practice would have hard-hitting consequences for many poor urban dwellers already grappling with food and fuel shortages.
In a good year urban farming accounted for between 50,000 mt to 100,000 mt of the annual harvest, he commented.
He queried Bvudzijena’s assertion that those who wanted to farm should approach the authorities for an allocation under the land reform programme. According to Gasela it was evident that the ruling party was determined to drive urban people, most of them MDC supporters, to rural areas, where it could manipulate and intimidate them.
However, environmentalists have commended the move, saying some of the country’s towns and cities were under threat of floods, as excessive cultivation was taking place on river b