Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture as a survival strategy: An analysis of the activities of Bulawayo and Gweru urban farmers (Zimbabwe)

By Chipo Hungwe*

*Lecturer, Human Resource Management Department,
Midlands State University,
P. Bag 9055 Gweru, Zimbabwe - Africa
Email: or
Phone: 263-54-260337
fax 263-54-260322.

*This study of the contribution of urban agriculture to household food security in Bulawayo and Gweru (Zimbabwe) is based on 15 months research starting from September 2003 to December 2004. It was made possible by funding provided by the Organisation for Social Sciences Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA).


The major objective of the study was to contribute to a better understanding of urban agriculture as a food access or survival strategy. Specifically, the research analysed the lives of men and women who undertook urban agriculture as a survival strategy showing their reasons for involvement, type of crops grown and their access to and use of urban land. Special emphasis was laid on the influence of gender in the formal / informal access to and use of resources such as land, water, labour, fa rming implements and inputs. This research revealed that urban agriculture has improved the food security status of all households investigated in the study. Many grandparents fended for their grandchildren through urban agriculture. This was especially true in the wake of the deadly HIV/AIDS pandemic that is wiping away the mid-generations leaving grandparents and grandchildren to look after each other. It was, however, not only the poor who practised urban agriculture, the rich who have access to more private land, capital and inputs practised urban agriculture on a large scale and reaped from it.


According to Mougeot (1994: 01) urban agriculture encompasses the production of food and non-food plant and tree crops and animal husbandry both within (intra) and fringing (peri) built up urban areas. It takes the form of rooftop, hydroponic and community gardening; roadside urban fringe agriculture; field to direct sale farmers' markets and livestock grazing in parks and feedlo ts. This study, however, was limited to the growth of crops and thus ignored animal husbandry for the purposes of manageability of the research. From the definition it is clear that there are many variations of urban agriculture though common in Bulawayo and Gweru was the practice of farming along roadsides, railway lines, open spaces, children's playgrounds and also farming within one's yard. The growth of the phenomenon of urban agriculture cannot be overemphasised since almost all third world countries practise it. Urban agriculture is on the increase since many individuals in urban areas are restrategising and looking for means of survival through urban agriculture.

Research Methods

The research was largely qualitative and partly quantitative so as to capture as much as possible views of the research participants and acknowledge their agency. The following research methods were used:

Selection of interviewees

It was imperative to include low and high-density suburbs within Bulawayo and Gweru so as to have adequate representation of the urban population characteristics. These areas were treated as a sampling frame where through purposive sampling and snowballing, research interviewees were identified. Sixteen suburbs were identified randomly in Bulawayo and Gweru though in these suburbs some respondents were identified purposively with a bias towards those who farmed outside their yards.

Purposive sampling is where the researcher makes a calculated decision to sample a specific locale or type of interviewees according to a preconceived but reasonable initial set of dimensions (such as time, space, identity) that are worked out in advance of a study. The researcher purp osively identified one urban farmer and interviewed that individual. Since that individual knew other farmers involved in urban farming, the researcher then used the farmer to identify all others with similar characteristics thus snowballing.

It will be noted, however, that for Bulawayo most respondents came from medium to low-density suburbs. These are Queens Park, Romney Park, Famona, Mahatshula, Tegela, Bradfield, Northend Khumalo and Hillcrest. This bias was due to the fact that these areas were more accessible to the research assistants since they stayed there during their research. For such areas, respondents were predominantly domestic workers who practise urban farming for both their own households and their employers. It was also discovered that some farmers came from high-density areas such as Entumbane, Makokoba, Mzilikazi and Nguboyenja (which are some of the oldest suburbs in Bulawayo) to farm along Harare road in Mahatshula and Parklands (these are medium and low densities). For Gweru the sample sites were heterogeneous as to size and varied according to accessibility to research assistants. Suburbs in Gweru included Senga, Mkoba 9 &11, Windsor Park and Nehosho

Collection of Data

Before the actual research was done the researcher carried out a pilot study at the Midlands State University in Gweru as a way of testing the questionnaire. The instrument was tested among 20 academic and non-academic staff. It was through the pilot study that areas needing refinement and further explanation were identified. The research employed four research assistants for administering the questionnaires in Bulawayo and Gweru.

The research assistants were fourth and second year students from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Midlands State University. They were native Ndebele and Shona speakers with a good command of English, who underwent extensive interviewer training. The research comprised a total of 166 respondents with 2 city council officials, 1 councillor, 146 respondents to the questionn aires and 17 case studies. Of theses questionnaires 97 were from Bulawayo while 49 were from Gweru. For case studies, 10 were from Bulawayo while 7 came from Gweru. The questionnaires were written and administered in Shona, Ndebele and English, which are the main languages used in Zimbabwe. They were then edited and coded by the principal researcher and entered in the computer for statistical analysis.

Method of Analysis

The processes of observation and analysis are rarely independent of each other. The research adopted a grounded theory analysis (Strauss 1969) where there was systematic and intensive data analysis often sentence-by-sentence or phrase by phrase of field notes, interviews and other documentation in-order to identify common themes and categories that ran through the research. Analysis of quantitative data was through the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS 10.0 version).

The Problem of urban agriculture

The problem of the practice of urban agriculture revolves around three main issues; (1) the fact that urban agriculture is the most common survival strategy among the poor while (2) there are no well laid out by-laws and policies to regulate the practice and (3) the competition for access to land and water from other "developmental" projects such as housing and industry. Though urban agriculture also exists in developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany it is about social, community and environmental regeneration. In the third world urban agriculture is a food production activity whose increase is a response to a decline in the economy following the failure of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) and an increase in the urban underclass The phenomenon is common in central and Eastern Europe parts of Asia and Africa in general. Countries in Africa where urban agriculture is practiced include Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. (Drakakis-S mith 1992, Rakodi 1985, Sanyal 1986, Gefu 1992, Mlozi et al 1992, Obosu-Mensah 1996). Urban agriculture is growing rapidly and therefore can neither be continually ignored nor discouraged. Evidence, especially from Harare shows that over 70% of the total population can be described as poor (Chingarande 2002). Earlier on the 1995 Poverty Assessment Study Survey Report had indicated that 61% of Zimbabwean households were poor. 31% of these were households headed by females. These female-headed households had a greater incidence of poverty than those headed by males (The National Gender Policy 2002:01). More and more people have resorted to urban agriculture as a poverty alleviation strategy. Though it is not the only coping strategy, urban agriculture is, however, the most common.

There is no clearly laid down policy that spells out policymakers' views on urban agriculture. The unstructured form of urban agriculture is usually a result of the politically motivated nature of the activity. Chaipa (2001) and Obosu- Mensah (1996) assert that during election years for local councillors and legislators even the worst environmentally damaging practices of urban agriculture are condoned. In Zimbabwe the Urban Councils Act does not "specifically provide for farming though section 227, clause 81 (1) of the third schedule of the act gives local authorities power to make by- laws on a number of issues including prohibition of regulation of land cultivation and keeping of animals. Other pieces of legislation that affect the practice of urban agriculture include the Town and Country Act (chapter 29,12), Public Health Act (chapter 19,9) and Bees act (chapter 19,2). The Protection of land by-law that deals with the use of municipal land allows for the practice of urban agricultural activiti es only after one has sought approval from the local authority before they engage in the activity. Section 10 of this by-law says no person shall cultivate any municipal land, or plant, sow tend or reap any plant, shrub, bush, flower, vegetable, fruit or crop on any municipal land without council approval" (Mavhumashava 2006). It is this piece of legislation that has been used in the past to slash crops illegally grown by urban farmers.

Water and land are the most important resources whose access and conservation ensures successful urban agriculture. There is competition from other urban land use activities such as housing and industrial development. These are viewed as traditional and progressive projects for urban areas. However, food is a basic need, which is interrelated with all other basic needs. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the urban condition requires an understanding of all basic needs such as housing, food, and water. This, therefore, calls for efforts by city planners, policy makers, the farmers themselves and all stakeholders involved to ensure that urban agriculture is practiced in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Literature Review

Literature on urban agriculture is little though the practice has been there since the ancient civilisation and the establishment of the first towns and cities. Vennetier did the first study of urban agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa in 1958 in Ponte-Noire Congo (Mougeot 1994:07). The scarcity of literature might be a reflection of the attitude of the academics that, like every one else, also hoped that urban agriculture would disappear quietly. This has not been so as shall be revealed by the following chapter which discusses the growth of the practice despite the negative attitude of policymakers and city planners. The growth and increase of urban agriculture has, however, prompted a change in the attitude of city planners who have started planning for and including urban agriculture in their master plans. The chapter starts by a general appreciation of urban agriculture worldwide and then discusses urban agriculture in Zimbabwe. The literature reviewed shows a dearth of gender-specific data on urban agriculture specifically in Zimbabwe where there is no known study of the gender dimensions of urban agriculture and food security in any city other than Harare. One research that partly addresses the above scenario was that carried out by the Environment and Development activities (ENDA-Zimbabwe). The research by ENDA however, mainly focused on the environme ntal effects of urban agriculture and use of chemicals by households in Harare and Gweru though it also had the objective of determining the economic significance of urban agriculture for urban households (ENDA 1996). This research therefore fills the gap that is often ignored by academics and policymakers who do not address the gender dynamics and the impact of urban agriculture on food security. These go on to implement gender blind policies. There is need for gender mainstreaming and gender specific research that will aid in the planning and making of policies equally relevant to men and women.

Urban agriculture is currently an informal sector activity in Zimbabwe. Most literature on urban agriculture reflects the negative publicity it has received where those involved have been severely discouraged and punished. This has been due to arguments b y city council authorities that the uncontrolled encroachment of ‘traditional' cultivation practices upon environmentally sensitive land and the ill-advised use of chemicals in vegetables and crop production has many ills. These include the spread of mosquitoes, rodents and the general uncontrolled animal husbandry which compromises public health since animals are sources of bad odours and generally contribute to the ugliness of the city (Drakakis-Smith 1992, Mbiba 1995, Mlozi et al 1992, Chaipa 2001). Urban agriculture has also been viewed as environmentally hazardous because it is practiced in polluted environments (where industries emit potentially poisonous gases) and also because sometimes, urban farmers use gutter water and sewage effluent due to the high fees levied on tap water. The uncontrolled urban farming in Gweru with stream bank cultivation and use of fertilisers and pesticides is said to have contributed to pollution loads in water reservoirs (Ngwenya 2003:242). In Harare, almost 90% of urban farmers use chemical fertilisers and nearly a third of "off-plot" cultivation takes place near streams, swamps or vleis (a type of wetland) leading to water pollution through run-off and leaching (Brickhill 1998:02). Thus it is argued that if not sustainably practised, urban agriculture could cause serious environmental damage. That is why there are arguments that agriculture must be confined to rural areas and where it encroaches urban areas it ruralises them thus making them ugly. Those who argue along such lines would therefore view urban agriculture as evidence of the failure of modernisation which, had it been successful, would have destroyed and even prevented urban agriculture for good.

Studies of urban agriculture reveal that it is usually located on the periphery of cities, along major roads, railway lines, in parks, children's playground and in any public open space within cities. This is so because urban agriculture, responds to competition for land, as do many other urban land uses. As urbanisation proceeds and centrality becomes more valuable, space demanding forms of urban agriculture migrate to more peripheral or less valued locations much as do single storey residences, transportation terminals (Mougeot 1994:13, Samachea 1997). However, Bibangambah (1992) highlights that urban agriculture is an invasion of cities and is evidence of urban decay, the failure of modernization processes and the ruralization of urban areas. It is therefore according to him counterproductive. Tinker (1994:01) also argues that urban agriculture is seen as the inappropriate retention of peasant culture in cities and Marxists and modernists confidently predict its disappearance. Development planners perceive a dichotomy between rural and urban, between agriculture and cities and so assign food production solely to rural areas. Howard (1994) however, questions our very ability of categorising areas as "undeveloped" "backward" or "pre-modern" arguing that it is only through the ideological biases of Marxism and western scientific rationalism that such categorisation is possible. This categorisation becomes problematic since it is not only viewed as an imposition of Euro-centric notions of development but also as profoundly undemocratic because it perpetuates a colonisation of consciousness where people see themselves as obstacles of development.

Public policy of modern day cities is viewed as greatly influenced by and perpetrating the colonial laws of planning and administration. Colonial governments forbade visible urban agriculture as unsightly and could never envisage a situation whereby gardens replac ed parks as important green space in built up areas (Tinker 1994). The main objective of the colonial by-laws was to maintain a cleaner urban environment and sustain urban beauty by preventing Africans from growing crops in towns' open spaces. Urban inhabitants were and are still expected to enjoy higher standards of living and better amenities than their rural counterparts dependent on subsistence agriculture. In some colonial African cities such as Nairobi and Nakuru residential areas were laid on the basis of the garden city model, with large quarter-acre (0,1 ha) allotments and tree-lined avenues. Frequently these salubrious neighbourhoods were protected from competing urban users by buffer zones of public spaces. In this new urban setting the permanent presence of the indigenous African population, let alone their traditional means of livelihood, was prescribed and carefully policed (Lee-Smith & Memon 1994:04). The failure of structural adjustment programmes instituted by m ost postcolonial African states has heralded a change in the attitudes of policy makers and governments who now accommodate urban agriculture, whose increase as a food production strategy is a response to harsh economic realities.

This change in attitude by governments, planners and policymakers has been witnessed mostly in Nigeria, Ghana, Zaire and Uganda where the practice is encouraged and condoned through the provision of farm inputs at highly subsidized rates and tax concessions (Gefu 1992). Some national capitals for Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Cote d' Ivoire are planning for and encouraging urban agriculture. One such example is Kinshasa whose 1975 master plan was radically different from its 1967 version. The 1975 Kinshasa master plan included areas zoned for horticultu re in the eastern, central and southwest sections of the multimillion-people city (Mougeot 1994:05). The Nyanga Declaration by municipal authorities in Zimbabwe (2002) is also a typical example of a change in attitude by Zimbabwean authorities. Delegates that attended the Nyanga workshop included those from the Ministry of Local Government Public Works and National Housing, town clerks, councillors, and representatives from international, regional and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The declaration acknowledged that urban and peri-urban agriculture contribute to urban food security, poverty reduction, local economic development and sustainable urban development. It further urged local authorities to develop appropriate incentives necessary for the growth of urban agriculture while also encouraging the NGOs to support financially and materially urban agriculture projects for the benefit of the poor. The accommodation of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe has, however, not tran slated into policies and laws regulating the practice in order to protect crops and ensure sustainable development. Academics have also not paid much attention to the phenomenon of urban agriculture. Thus, there has not been much research done on the subject especially in Zimbabwe where issues of agriculture and agrarian reform are only associated with rural farms and resettlement areas.

Few research bodies such as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and OSSREA have funded research on urban agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa. What is problematic, however, especially with the research by the IDRC, is that it mainly focuses on Harare in Zimbabwe. Such researches present difficulties in generalising findings to other Zimbabwean cities. According to Drakakis- Smith (1992: 273) we need to know much more about the nature of the prob lem and how it varies both within and between countries. Quick generalisations are not only dangerous but distort reality as pressures faced by Harare residents (Harare being the capital city) may not be the same as those faced by residents in smaller cities of Gweru, Bulawayo and Kwekwe. Comparative research between cities therefore is imperative if people are to understand the phenomenon of urban agriculture. Tinker (1994:06) also maintains that improved information, careful quantitative comparative studies about crops and fertilisers, water and pesticides not only greatly increases crop production but also encourage governmental reconsideration of policies toward urban and peri-urban agriculture. Sawio (1994) adds that expanding on urban agriculture's conceptual framework has great potential to contribute to the facilitation of sustainable food systems in urban areas. A research on Bulawayo and Gweru (Zimbabwe) is therefore necessary as it discusses variations, reasons for farmi ng and the contribution of urban agriculture within and between these two cities. The potential of studies on urban agriculture could also be greatly strengthened if the analysis has a gender focus and presents gender-disaggregated data.

There is limited data on gender and urban agriculture. Hovorka (1998) made a pioneering attempt by becoming the first to address gender in urban agriculture and suggested how researchers could approach respondents, conduct research and write gender specific reports. The discussion of gender in urban agr iculture mainly revolves around the division of tasks by men and women, access to and control of resources such as information or technical advise, inputs, land and water, marketing of produce and women's role in preparing food for their families. Literature on such issues reveals gender inequality where, for example, women do not get equal access to land and water. If they get such access they usually are not in control of these resources especially land which they end up renting from men. Hasna (1998 in Obuobie et al 2004:14) argues that in Ghana it was traditionally known that women neither owned land in their natal home nor their marital home. Invoking culture in such instances disadvantages women who are expected by the same cultural code to provide and prepare food, especially relish.

However, there is another perspective on gender discussed by Obuobie et al (2004:14). In their study of Ghana they highlight that the situation has changed as one's access to land now depends on their ability to lobby. The same line of argument is pursued by Mushamba (2004:04) who states that women usually get more land for urban farming than their male counterparts because of their ability to lobby. He reports his first encounter with a group of women from a political party in Zimbabwe who used their sheer numbers to lobby for farming land in Harare. They won their case and were allocated pieces of land with temporary plot numbers. This line of thinking concludes that women benefi t more from allocation of urban farming land and as such urban farming is a female activity.

In most societies it is accepted that men cut down trees, clear farming land and sometimes plant seed while women do the weeding and harvesting. These are the traditional roles are assumed to be carried over to urban areas in the practise of urban agriculture. However, Ghana presents a different scenario where it is men that dominate urban farming by performing all the tasks involved. This is so because Ghan aian communities generally consider farming to be men's work (Obuobie et al 2004:14). However, Obuobie et al (2004:14) concluded that women were involved in vegetable marketing and petty trading as their primary means of obtaining cash income for household expenditure. This explains why there are few women in Ghana who practise urban farming.

The dearth of data addressing the gendered nature of urban agriculture justifies this research. Gender analysis allows researchers and policy makers to inves tigate who does what in households and communities, how time is used and what different men and women gain from their work (Sweetman 2000:07). Such an analysis reveals the role of characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity and economic factors and how they are compounded by gender to shape the activities of different people. Van Esterik (1997:01) brings out the link between women's sense of self and their ability to feed their families. She argues that for women who are normally responsible for providing food for their families, the experience of being unable to feed their families is tantamount to torture (for food deprivation is a form of torture). Therefore, hunger and food insecurity must be considered as part of the violence that women experience and must be explored as a violation of human rights. She further proposes that feminist food praxis should be formulated on the assumption that women are gatekeepers of the food system and mediators between food produced and food c onsumed (Van Esterik 1997:01). The national gender policy of Zimbabwe (2002) also acknowledges that while women make up 52% of the total population their participation in the economy is confined largely to agricultural production for domestic consumption and labour intensive tasks such as child rearing, fetching water and firewood. Thus gender analysis would not only show the roles of each individual within the household but would also uncover the power differentials and economic constraints faced by men and women in their efforts to ensure food security for their households. Furthermore the need for gender-disaggregated data cannot be overemphasised because overlooking such issues could make gender analysis remain theoretical and void.

The growth of the phenomenon of urban agriculture cannot be overemphasised since the third world countries discussed above evidence this growth. Again policy makers and planners must not ignore the need for more information on how urban agriculture varies within and between cities since such information will aid our understanding of the activity and lead to better-informed decisions. There is, therefore, yet another gap that needs to be filled by academics and researchers on urban agriculture and the gender dimensions it incorporates. Emancipatory research can only be done when researchers make an effort to understand the unequal power relations between men and women and then address the need to empower women as gatekeeper s of the food system within the household.


The data analysis had three main objectives. First, identifying, describing and developing a picture of the urban farmers, their gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status and level of education. The second goal was to show how such factors as age, sex, ethnicity, location of house, level of education and income earned affected/ influenced one's choice urban agriculture as a survival strategy, choice of crops grown, size of f ield, method of acquiring land, quantity of produce, the gender roles involved in clearing the land ploughing, planting, weeding and harvesting crops and whether or not they sell their produce. The third concern was to show how urban agriculture has affected the food security status as a survival strategy of each household involved in the activity. Directed towards these goals the computer analysis began with a frequency listing of all variables and graphs formulated and cross-tabulations made describing the gender of farmers, reasons for farming, crops grown and problems encountered etc.

(Please contact the author for more details about Tables.)

Characteristics of the suburbs comprising the sample

Table 1

The table above presents the specific suburbs included in the sample. The highest number of respondents came from Queenspark that had 19%, Senga had 16% while Mkoba constituted 10,3%. The sample comprised 16 suburbs. 12 suburbs were from Bulawayo while 4 were in Gweru. As discussed in the research methods section, the sample was biased towards the low-density areas due to the fact that these were the most accessible areas for the research assistants. Moreover it was in these areas that people from high-density areas sought for open spaces to farm. On the whole, 66% (97) of the respondents came from Bulawayo while 34% (49) were from Gweru. This roughly corresponds with the geographical size of the two cities. However, in terms of ethnicity and city of respondent, it was noted that more Ndebele speaking people were found in Bulawayo whilst Gweru had a majority of Shona speaking people. Overally the Shona speaking people constituted 47,9% of the sample while the Ndebele formed 32,2% (see table 1 below). Those of foreign origin constituted 10% in both cities while white and coloureds constituted 4,1% each. The sample had only one Tonga who constituted 0,7% while Kalanga speaking people constitute 4,1%. This shows the diversity of tribes and ethnic groups in the country while clearly depicting Ndebele and Shona groups as the most dominant.

Table 2

Gender of urban farmers

The majority of urban farmers were females (88) who made up 60 % of the sample while men (58) comprised 40% of the sample. This could have been due to the fact that women formed the majority of the unemployed persons. In Gweru 65,8% of the inactive population were females (Gweru Master Plan 1994). This shows a high level of male dominated employment with a number of females placed either in jobs substantially lower than males or totally unemployed. However, there were more males in Bulawayo (45%) than Gweru (29%) who engaged in urban agriculture.

Age of urban farmers

Urban farming is not limited to any age group. However, most farmers were found in the 21-40 and 61-80 age groups. Women dominated in these age groups. However, three quarters of the respondents above the age of 60 argued that they had been given land for free by the Department of Social Welfare as a way of alleviating poverty since they were both old and unemployed. This was the case for those who far med in Mahatshula and Parklands along Harare road (Bulawayo) and those in Senga (Gweru). It can be argued that the majority of those who farmed outside their yards were older as compared to those who farmed in their backyards. The reason could be that those who travelled to their farms wanted larger tracts of land and farming was their major source of survival. Such people usually stayed with household members who also earned little income, usually less than $450 000 per month. The farmers themselves would also be involved in petty trade and other informal economic activities such as vegetable vending, illegal gold panning, sewing, knitting and cross border trade (refer to table below). It was shown that there were more people in the 41-60 and 61-80 age categories that earned below $450 000 who travel 2-6 km and over 6km. The increase in the number of those who earned over $900 000 in the 41-60 and 61-80 categories represents those individuals who owned big plots originally meant for mixed farming within the city or they might have bought farms from government. Those who cultivated within their yards mainly fell within the less than 20 and 21-40 categories. This was regardless of the income earned by those individuals/households.

Table 3

Level of Education

People with all kinds of educational backgrounds practised urban agriculture. Zimbabwe is generally a literate country with an adult literacy rate of 86% (The National Gender policy 2002:08). Thus only 1,4% were those who had never been to school while 19,9% ended education at primary level. Those who ended in form two (ZJC level) made up 22,6% of the sample while 37,7% ended at "0" level. Those who went up to A' level were 12,3% while the degreed individuals comprised 6,2% of the sample. Of interest was the issue of age and how it defined educational status where those who had never been to school were over 60 years of age for both men and women. However, nationally 60% of the adult illiterate population are women. This could be attributed to the colonial educational policy and the African perception of education then, both of which discouraged pursuance of education especially by females. The involvement of highly educated people with degrees might be a reflection of the bad national economy in terms of wages and salaries.

However, this development might be a blessing in disguise in that continued participation of the educated c ould influence policies and regulations in favour of urban agriculture since they would want to protect their investments. Generally it could be argued that men in the sample were more educated than females. It basically made sense therefore that more women were unemployed than men because of their disadvantaged educational backgrounds. Because employers preferred individuals with 5 "0" levels or better it was men who had more chances of employment than females who then resorted to urban agriculture for employment and survival.

Reasons for urban farming

There are various reasons why people engage in urban agriculture and these were influenced by one's economic status (entitlements). The poor engaged in urban agriculture to ensure that the family at least was assured of three meals a day and to ensure variety while the better off argued that farming was hobby or that it had some cultural value. Data gathered (see table below) reveals that the majority (48%) of farmers in Bulawayo and Gweru engaged in farming because it ensured household survival. The remaining 35% either farmed for variety, as a hobby or cited cultural reasons for engaging in urban agriculture. The reasons for involvement in urban agriculture are also related to crops grown and size of field where for example, if one grew flowers, they were sold. Again, where maize was grown on a bigger plot say 5 acres, the surplus was also sold.

Table 4

There were some, for example, Themba who cited that they did farming as a hobby while the same people were unemployed. These were observed to be young m ales who felt embarrassed /humiliated to be associated with urban farming since according to them it shows economic deficiency and desperation. They therefore did not want to show that desperation. The figure below shows farmers' reason for engaging in urban agriculture by gender. It reveals that while most men would farm because of cultural reasons the majority of women farmed because of economic hardships and that farming is a source of survival. There is a higher percentage of men than women who farmed in order to get variety and who take urban farming as a hobby. This reveals that women take farming more seriously than men because for women farming is not only a source of livelihood but for most of them it is their first job while for most men it is not their prime source of income especially the employed ones.

Class, age and method of accessing land

It is argued that one's social class and age affected the method of accessing farming land. Most poor individuals engaged in illegal open space farming while the rich had bigger yards and therefore could afford to farm within them. These were the same people who stayed in medium to low-density areas where they had enough private space for agriculture while those who stay in high-density areas experienced shortage of land especially after extending their core houses. High density stands are by nature smaller usually about 300 square metres or less while medium and low density can go up to 500 and 750 square metres (Auret, 1995). The findings are similar to those by Lee-Smith and Memon's study of Kenya (1994: 06) who highlighted that in contrast with the rich households who tended to farm on private land, mostly in their backyards, the very low-income groups used public land. It was observed that those who used public lands were more likely to be tenants or lodgers than the owners of houses. In Gweru these tenants constituted 62% in 1994 (Gweru Master Plan 1994: 47). The figures are much higher now with the housing crises, thus use of public land could also be a sign of the general housing problems. The sample had a case study of Chipo who not only farmed on illegal land but also stayed in an illegal self-constructed "house". Such people are the ones known as squatters and their population is also increasing (that was before the advent of operation restore order which displaced these people).

Analysis of age reveals that, it is the it is the older (above 60) people who got pieces of land freely from council or the Department of Social Welfare while those below 60 either rented from council, allocated themselves, got the land through friends and relatives or farm within their yards. Renting land was common among the 21-40 and 41-60 age categories for both men and women.

Table 5

Urban agriculture improving household food security

Whether or not urban agriculture improves household food security and diet is dependent on the original reason for engaging in the activity, size of land and type of crop grown (refer to table below). Those who did not perceive a change in their diet (3,4 %) were the type of people who either grew flowers or had poultry or pig projects. These grew crops to feed their animals. 9, 6% of the sample argued that with urban agriculture they were assured of three meals a day which had been difficult to maintain because of economic hardships and could even be more difficult if they had not engaged in urban agriculture. Among the case studies are the cases of John and Fiona, Chipo, Moyo and Mora who cited that they were assured of something to eat by engaging in urban agriculture. However, the majority (87%) stated that a variety of foods were assured cheaply by their involvement in urban agriculture. There are cases where for example one could not get much out of the practise of urban farming because the land was just too small for example the case of Tanya in Bulawayo who had allocated herself land near a primary school. It must be acknowledged, however, that household food insecurity grows with the share that purchased food takes of the household budget and that the fewer the household's alternatives in buying food, the more serious will be its insecurity (Mougeot 1994:07). The high inflation rate that characterised the past 6 years meant that a bigger share of the budget was taken by purchased food, which most could not afford to sustain.

Table 6

The fate of produce was dependent on the reason for engaging in agriculture in the first place and sometimes on the amount of produce. 68,5% of respondents maintained that it was important for them to be engaged in urban agric ulture as they used all the produce for household consumption. They also highlighted that the crops provided them with fresh supplies and a variety of food cheaply. Almost the same number of people produced less than 6 (50kg) bags of maize yearly. About 18% produced 7-15 bags while the rest could not quantify their produce. 8,2% of the sample stated that they sold their produce for cash. These tended to have relatively bigger plots. There were farmers who also reared chickens and pigs for sale and these grew crops in order to feed their animals. However, the end result is improving food security since the money from sales could be used to buy household needs and provide extra cash. It was also observed that those who reared animals owned big plots, usually used hired labour, had high incomes above $750 000 per month, were younger (below 60) and most were white. Poorer households were found to grow crops for household consumption though about 23,3% argued that if there was surplus it could be sold. However, there were only few instances where surplus was generated since 37% of farmers farmed on their backyards or if they had bigger pieces of land they did not get much because the yields were of poor quality owing to lack of adequate water, fertiliser, and or pesticides. Those who had bigger pieces of land outside their yards were usually very old and too poor to sell their produce since farming was their major means of survival. The statistics above are in agreement with findings from other African cities where in Nairobi for example, over 50% of farmers used their entire produce for household consumption while about 25% was used to pay helpers with food (Mougeot 1994: 10).

Table 7

• Please note that a bag represents 50 kilogrammes.

Urban agriculture and economic change

While it is argued that urban agriculture increases with economic stress, 96 % of urban farmers in Bulawayo and Gweru argued that they would continue farming even if the economy recovered. This is mainly because urban agriculture provides cheap and fresh supplies of quality food. Others were generally pessimistic about an economic turnaround and argued that they would continue farming out of necessity. The findings are thus in line with Mougeot (1994:03)'s con tention that should structural adjustment policies ever succeed urban agriculture is likely to increase because of persisting unemployment, retrenched civil servants, new comers added yearly to the local pool, sheer population growth, women at home resorting to urban agriculture and a growing demand for abundant, regular and cheap supplies of good quality food. Already in Zimbabwe there are fears of the dangers of genetically modified foods thus one urban farmer in Bulawayo argued that they would continue farming to avoid buying these genetically modified products. With the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic the dependency ratio (which was 63% for Gweru in 1994 according to the Master Plan) will continue to plummet and thus an increase in urban farming as an alternative. Grandparent headed households who would rather do agriculture than anything else evidence this.

Table 8

Gender Roles: Urban agriculture as a female activity?

In most cases women were viewed to be the major players in urban agriculture. In instances where the husband was employed he only bought the needed inputs while leaving the woman to provide the necessary labour. In the sample there was no instance where a formally employed man was found farming alone, even during weekends. He would, however, "help" the wife during his free time. Such husbands were even reluctant to answer the questionnaire claiming that the wife had more information than them. They also felt that it was culturally appropriate for women to be more concerned than men on the type of food that their families ate hence it was their major responsibility. This could be a reflection of the African culture where traditionally, according to Cheater (1984:59,) a man was expected to allocate a portion of his fields to each of his wives, where they grew crops (especially groundnuts and vegetables) to enliven family meals. Married women with employed husbands sometimes gave biased or conflicting information when it came to questions on who did the clearing of land, planting, weeding and harvesting. Most argued that they usually did all these with their husbands' help though upon probing some agreed that the husbands were not helpful even when it came to buying seed (an activity socially reserved for men). All the men in the sample who actively participated in urban agriculture were either unemployed, self-employed, or if employed, earned so little that they were motivated to supplement their meagre salaries through urban agriculture. It was revealed that there were more women than men who did harvesting in Gweru. This could be attributed to the number of females in the sample where in Gweru women made up 71% while men formed 29% of the sample.

Table 9

The picture changes howev er, when one looks at the division of labour for Bulawayo farmers where males took a lead in harvesting. In Bulawayo 15% males harvested alone while 40% of them did so with the help of their families. However to show that females still dominated the harvesting activity in Bulawayo is the percentage of females who harvested alone. These made up 28% of the sample while men who harvested alone formed 15% of the sample. The high percentage of active males could also be attributed to the high number of males in the sample who formed 45% of Bulawayo farmers and the changing attitudes towards gender roles associated with farming.

For cases where the husband was unemployed and engaged in urban agriculture he made sure that the whole family (wife and chi ldren) took part in the activities of planting, weeding and harvesting thus helping him. These same men argued vehemently that farming was not gender specific since everyone eats hence farming must be everyone's responsibility. They argued that as breadwinners men had the responsibility of fending for their families. In this case urban agriculture was not only defined by gender but also by the occupational status of male members of the household, especially the father. Women who were either divorced or widowed did all the farm work alone though their children and daughters in law would occasionally offer help. There were problems, however, raised by some of these single women who complained that their children especially boys did not co-operate with them in farming thus leaving them to do everything by themselves. On the allocation of weeding tasks it was also discovered that there were more men who weeded with their families, but there were fewer men who weeded alone than women w ho did the same job alone.

There were, however, growing cases of farmers who use hired labour either to do part of the job or all of the farming activities. Among the case studies was Dzauya who sometimes hired casual labourers to help with weeding and harvesting. The ability of one to hire labourers was limited by the ability to pay them. Thus poorer households would rather do everything by themselves while those who could afford, hired workers. Therefore in terms of race it was mainly the whites, coloured, and rich blacks who afforded to hire labourers and domestic workers to do all the farm work throughout the year while the poorer blacks would hire labourers seasonally to clear the land (if they were female and had no male to do it because this was viewed as a male role) and proceeded to plant, weed and harvest alone.

Conclusions drawn

The major crops grown revealed the effect of harsh economic environment since most farmers grew staple crops. These included maize, rapoko, sorghum, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, sweet reeds, beans, watermelons, tomatoes and other vegetables. There was, however, one white woman who also grew flowers.

Urban agriculture is no longer limited to women only but men also participate. However, the allocation of tasks was such that women performed more and usually worked alone while when men as brothers, sons, and fathers were involved they tended to request the help of women and children and rarely worked alone. Formally employed men would be comfortable contributing financially towards urban agriculture while women and children provided labour.

The practice of urban farming, however, was still viewed as tedious and those who could afford, hired domestic workers or seasonal workers to help partly with the clearing of land, weeding and harvesting of crops. Such people were envied for being able to produce without soiling their hands. The same argument was advanced by Cheater (1984: 57) in her study of farmers in the Tribal Trust Lands of Msengezi that:

Being able to afford "servants" to undertake the dirty, manual tasks of crop production is a source of prestige in Msengezi, for the farm-holder who is solely an organizer and supervisor of farming activities, rather than a worker himself, is a successful man: he is seen to be moving towards the European model of large scale producer who reaps benefits without unduly soiling his own hands in the process.

Urban agriculture can be hailed for creating jobs for the jobless especially women and affording them a chance to generate their own cash which they do not account for to men. It has also helped in supplementing household income and ensuring variety where, for example, sweet potatoes have substituted bread while the growing of maize has meant an avoidance of the expensive mealie-meal from the shops. Incidentally, the increasing number of people who prefered to grow their own maize has led to the growth of hammer mills in cities which grind the maize produced by farmers at cheap rates for example a 20kg bag of mealie meal is sold for $22 000 while that 20kg bag of maize can be ground for $5 000 at the hammer mills. There was also thriving business of cattle manure sales by men from nearby farms who have found an easy market of urban farmers especially in Gweru. Such people stood to gain because they were allowed access to the cities by the by-laws that allow harnessed horses and donkeys. In Bulawayo owners of donkeys provided labour by ploughing for urban farmers using these donkeys.

However, there were problems in terms of access to water and land for urban farming. The study revealed that most farmers did not invest in water supply since only a few rich owned boreholes. Farmers thus grew rain fed crops that rely solely on seasonal rainfall while a few practised dry season farming using tap water supplied by the city council for household purposes such as drinking, cooking and other domestic uses. This water is very expensive and therefore fewer households would want to pay higher rates due to urban farming. In such cases the exorbitant rates tended to be prohibitive for urban farmers. Those who sacrificed and decided to use tap water were not spared since the city council (especially in Bulawayo) further punished the use of hosepipes by charging high fines.

As for land, the study revealed that there was inadequate farmland since most farmers used their backyards and illegal open spaces. However, farmers were reluctant to take up the government initiative of A1 and A2 farm lands because they thought it was a political gimmick and only the ruling party members stood to gain. Some also lacked knowledge on how these farms were acquired while others stated that the procedure was cumbersome, yet others stated that they were not prepared to go large scale (some because of ageing) and cited the lack of infrastructure (particularly schools and clinics) in the new farming areas. For women it was impractical to leave their families and occupy lands elsewhere. Therefore those females who gained land tended to be war veterans or female bureaucrats well versed with the procedures. These views were in line with Gaidzanwa's (2004:05) assertion that

"The processes preceding the fast track land reform, namely, the demonstrations and spontaneous land settlements were male dominated aff airs since women with small children were not able to leave them for the long periods of time necessary to occupy the land until it was designated, surveyed and allocated".

The production- nutrition systems tended to be influenced by the lack of both capital and crop intensity. The research revealed that most farmers farmed on small pieces of land and did not invest much in terms of applying fertiliser to the land, pesticides and certified seed. As such they also did not get much in terms of harve st thus resulting in poor yields. However those who applied fertiliser or manure on their fields got more. The inability to get capital to boost urban farming resulted in poor yields for most urban farmers.


The research concluded that the government of Zimbabwe, policy makers and town planners in the cities of Bulawayo and Gweru cannot afford to continue with politically motivated regulations lacking strict by-laws governing the practise of urban agriculture. The current green belts model was a step in the right direction though it did not address the issue of title deeds, which is a crucial one for urban farmers. This will not only give urban farmers responsibility but will ensure that they practise urban farming in an environmentally sustainable manner, something that is difficult to guarantee now since there is no accountability on the part of farmers who cultivate on open spaces. Thus among the major recommendations made by the researcher was the official recognition of urban agriculture and formulation of policies that directly increased the chances of the urban poor's access to farming land. This could be done through the permanent allocation of pieces of land to urban farmers and the issuing of title deeds to urban farm owners such that cases of harassment of the female sex, will be minimised. This therefore also calls for the mainstreaming of gender at all policy levels especially when it comes to the allocation of land and farming inputs (at subsidised ra tes) so as to ensure that the urban poor benefited from the practice of urban agriculture.

The city council has overall control and power over urban farmers who seem to act according to the will of the city council. They farm where they are told to farm and if they decide to farm illegally the city council police slashes all crops. In this sense the farmers are powerless. The researcher had assumed that farmers would have conflicts with other urban players such as the providers of electricity and telephone services (whose lines could be affected by urban agriculture) and also the health department. The results, however, do not confirm this view since less than 5% of respondents argued that they had had problems with the above-mentioned departments. However, in as far as co-operating against thieves is concerned, farmers have been shown to be actively involved in the formation of patrol groups that aid in the protection of their crops. The continued farming of open spaces despite the negative reaction of council could show the resilience of farmers in the face of a powerful city council.

It is argued that urbanisation does not necessarily mean the end of agricultural production, if anything, urbanisation and its negative effects on individuals can actually herald an increase in agricultural activity in urban centres. The analysis of urban agriculture can therefore be complete if one is to place it within the framework of the rural -urban relationships and economic change and how these influence urban economic activity. In harsh economic times, urban agriculture will always be practiced to insure households from food insecurity, more so for the unemployed poor men and women whose duty is ensure household survival.


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*Lecturer, Human Resource Management Department, Midlands State University, P. Bag 9055 Gweru, Zimbabwe- Africa. Email- or . Phone: 263-54-260337 fax 263-54-260322.

*This study of the contribution of urban agriculture to household food security in Bulawayo and Gweru (Zimbabwe) is based on 15 months research starting from September 2003 to December 2004. It was made possible by funding provided by the Organisation for Social Sciences Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA).

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February 2, 2006

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture