THE global food crisis that gripped the world in 2008 shifted world attention to food and agriculture as an integral ingredient to peace and stability. In 2008, the Unite Nations Food Price Index almost doubled in less than a year, crashing in 2011. Prices of food shot up again in 2010 and 2011. The food crisis precipitated riots in countries like Haiti, and led to the ouster of the country’s Prime Minister. In Africa, countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mozambique were not spared these food riots. In fact, the much talked about Arab Spring was a result of food insecurity caused by volatile and increasing food prices in the world.
The global food crisis was indicative of the inadequacy and inequitable architecture of the global food supply system, one that values profit over availability of food to people. The global food supply system is spearheaded by a handful of multinational food corporations that dictate the production, processing, distribution, marketing and retailing of food. This system enables these corporations to wipe out competition, and consigns farmers and consumers into abysmal poverty through tough terms to suppliers like health and safety certification.
Subsequently, there are about 842 million people hungry on the planet today, or what Paul Collier terms the ‘bottom billion’. In addition, the world has an added burden to feed 7 billion today, 8 billion by 2030 and 9 billion by 2050. The instability and riots that followed this global food crisis and the pressure to feed the hungry firmly led to a focus on local food supply and production as well as small-holder agriculture as an instrument of attaining food security, and with it, world security. As a result, the term ‘food sovereignty’ has gained momentum, one that is an expression of a people’s aspirations to be in control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed. Its major import is to increase local food supply and enable people to access cheaper and fresh food, produced in a sustainable manner.
Resultantly, movements of people across the world are fighting for food sovereignty, led by La Via Campesina, one of the largest social movements in the world, and bring together more than 200 million small and medium – scale farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous peoples, migrants and agricultural workers from across 70 countries. They are brought together by their desire to defend small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promoting social justice and dignity. These groups, and indeed the world, have now realised the importance of smallholder agriculture in enhancing food security.Advertisement
In hindsight, urban agriculture has emerged as of the most important tool of enhancing food security and local food supply amongst the urban poor. Subsequently countries – from the developed to the developing world – have institutionalised policies that support urban agriculture. Zimbabwe has policies that support urban agriculture, especially the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, yet much more needs to be done to institutionalise these policies. Urban agriculture includes both crop production and livestock farming.
It is against this background that Harare city council was reported to have pronounced that council is moving to ban backyard poultry farming. I propose and argue in this paper that the city council’s pronouncement is slightly bankrupt, both politically and from a policy point of view. We should also keep in mind that, recently, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni was quoted as saying that the Mshika mshika mode of public transportation has to be banned because of noise and disorder in the city centre. I will come to this point later.
On its political bankruptcy – a lot has been researched and written about the seismic July 2013 election results that swept Zanu PF to a landslide victory. Needless to say, the results caused so much shock and consternation that even up to now, a lot of people have struggled to decipher what really took place. However, some research and reports have been done. One such research was jointly done by the Election Resource Centre and Dr. Philan Zamchiya, and acknowledged how the Zimbabwean economy has become so informalised. This informalisation is a result of decimation of the formal economy, manifested in high unemployment rates, estimated to be over 80%. The report posits that among other electoral irregularities, Zanu PF has moved in to galvanise its social base through organising and engaging the informal sector.
The report, titled ‘The Anatomy of political economy and Zimbabwe’s 2013 Elections’, argued that the salient reconfiguration of Zimbabwe’s political economy since 2000 heavily shifted the electoral scale in favour of Zanu PF which managed to mix tradition and modernity to position itself for electoral victory. On the other hand, the report states, the opposition and some mainstream civil society organisations remained stuck in the teleological modernist vision and were forgotten by the highway. In particular, the shifts in four patronage-economy sectors that is the fast track land reform, informal mining sector, urban informal sector and urban informal housing became central to re-engineering Zanu PFs social base.
It is therefore surprising that against the background of such evidenced reports, the Harare Mayor can announce that the council intends to barn backyard poultry farming. Urban agriculture, especially poultry farming has become another central informal outlet that is an expression of the suppressed economy in Zimbabwe. Understandably, the Mayor is just announcing romanticised policy positions which aim to address disorder and maybe eliminate noise pollution in the suburbs of Harare; but at what political cost? Any serious political party, let alone an opposition political party, should move in to maintain a presence in these informal spaces occupied by victims of Zanu PFs disastrous reign.
And it is through spaces like councils in which the party still holds sway where it should strive to make a difference in people’s lives. Which is why, the morning after he announced his intentions to ban mshika mshika, Joseph Chinotimba, not by accident by the way, moved in to announce himself as the patron of this informal transport sector group. From an administrative point of view, the Mayor was spot on to announce the banning of this mode of transport which has caused so much disorder in the city. But should the party not be positioning itself to be champion and voice of these victims of Zanu PFs kamikaze economic governance?
One social media user aptly amplified this point and said “kana vanhu vakazopanduka musazoti vaipa, moti vending hamudi, kuchengeta huku hamudi, matuckshop hamudi apa mabasa acho hakuna saka moda kuti vanhu vaitasei?” In loose translation the social media user bemoans the policies pursued by Harare City Council, which have seen it banning vending, poultry farming and backyard tuckshops yet the people have no jobs. It is political bankruptcy of monumental proportions for an opposition party to be outwitted in galvanising the social base in a space occupied by victims of misrule and economic decline. Any serious opposition political party should be moving in to benefit from these informalised social spaces by establishing itself as the defender of the poor people’s livelihoods. So much for the politics!
As stated earlier in this report, urban agriculture has been proven all over the world to be an instrument of enhancing food security, especially among the urban poor. Yet even cities in the developed world like Bristol in the United Kingdom, Vancouver in Canada and Chicago in the United States, amongst many others have institutionalised urban farming because of its inclination to produce cheap and fresh food that is locally available.
Even then, a movement started from Canada called the 100 Mile Club, and has spread across other parts of the world which is bound by a common desire to consume food only produced within a 100 mile radius. This is another form of food sovereignty. Cuba is a classic example of a country that has developed an effective and efficient urban agriculture policy, and has gone to the extent of creating a department of urban agriculture within the Agricultural Ministry. Nguyen (2000) states that in Hanoi, Vietnam, 80% of fresh vegetables are produced locally, whilst 50% of pork, poultry and fresh water fish, as well as 40% of eggs originate from urban and peri-urban areas.
In Africa, the cities of Bamako in Mali and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso produce all their vegetables their populations consume. Maxwell (1996) reveals that in Kampala, Uganda an estimated 70% of the eggs and poultry consumed are locally produced. It has also been observed that urban agriculture does not only enhance food security and local food supply, it also creates employment and has the potential to stimulate economic growth. This is because urban farmers can sell their surplus food and get much needed income for other commitments like health and education. In Zimbabwe, albeit council by-laws and land use laws clash with urban farmers, the government has since developed some framework for urban farming, especially the Bulawayo City Council that has a defined urban farming policy.
In that regard, whilst evidence and policy developments across the world by many governments is showing a deliberate strategy to support and institutionalise urban farming as a policy response towards urban food poverty and making available fresh and local food, Mayor Manyenyeni thinks otherwise. Of course, poultry farming, like other aspects of urban agriculture has its disadvantages like pollution and causing diseases, but it only rationale for policy makers to try and develop sustainable methods of urban agriculture. At the end of the day, it provides a solid avenue to food security, and its advantages far outweigh its negatives, and those tasked with improving the welfare of citizens should support such policy initiatives. They can only antagonise them at their own peril.
Masimba Nyamanhindi is Chevening/Africa Land and Food Fellowship Scholar at theRoyal Agricultural University, Cirencester, UK.