Zimbabwe bans crop growing in urban areas

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Drought is affecting Zimbabwe

Farming in urban areas has been banned in the latest turn in the Zimbabwean government's 'crackdown' on the country's poor.

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a chronic drought and with food supplies running low, thousands fear starvation after they were told they could no longer supplement their food supply with crops grown themselves. A police spokesman told a UN news agency that they were under government instruction to prevent urban farming.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said "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?"

People living in urban areas had taken to growing their staple crop - maize - and other grains in patches of land near their houses. Much of the land being used had already been earmarked for cultivation, but the police have been told to ignore any such designations.

A non-governmental organisation, Environment Africa, agreed with some of the policy. "We totally understand and appreciate the need for urban people to supplement their incomes, but they should not do it the wrong way. Ideally, farming should be done on farms, not in towns. What we have witnessed is an irreparable damage to the environment, which will certainly have dire consequences for our beloved cities," said an official.

A spokesman for the opposition — the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — said that while planting on undesignated land, especially amid a maze of houses in townships, was not something they could approve, planting on designated areas should be allowed.

Such urban farming could produce up to 100,000t of grain in a good year, the spokesman added. He believes the government aims to drive urban people — who are often MDC supporters — out into the countryside, with the promise of getting land under the "reform program".

As international concern about Zimbabwe grows, Kofi Annan plans to send a special envoy to assess the situation. However, he has not scheduled a date for the visit.