Persistent illegal urban farming that has been exacerbated by food shortages continues to compromise the capital’s environmental integrity.
Unsustainable illegal urban farming in wetlands, steep slopes and stream banks in Harare suburbs including Highfield, Glen Norah, Warren Park 1, Epworth, Kuwadzana Extension, Waterfalls and Mabvuku Tafara continues to cause massive land degradation, destroying ecosystems and compromising water availability.
With unpredictable weather patterns and persistent droughts due to climate change, Harare could find itself struggling with water supply as urban farmers disturb and vandalize wetlands for agriculture.
Environmental Management (EMA) spokesperson, Amkela Sidange expressed concern over the increased activities of illegal urban farming which she said was disturbing the city’s water ecosystem.
Sidange noted that according to Section 20 of Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007, it is an offense to carry out any operations in a protected ecosystem such as wetlands, river banks and streams.
Anyone who contravenes this section is liable to a fine not exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months; or to both such fine and imprisonment.
“Cultivation, when done in the mentioned areas (wetlands, river banks and streams), leads to their degradation.
“For instance, wetlands in Zimbabwe cover just 3% of the total land area of the country, which translates to an estimated 0.26 million hectares, but despite being such an insignificant statistic, wetlands have a vital ecological role which includes among many others, striking a balance in water quality and quantity.
“Their degradation therefore implies loss of underground water recharge system resulting in the drying up of boreholes and water bodies like rivers and dams, which is very familiar of late.
“Wetlands act as kidneys of the earth by removing impurities from water, and thus degradation of this vital ecological system results in water of poor quality being available for use,” she said.
Sidange reiterated that EMA was embarking on several initiatives and campaigns to educate urban residents to become eco-conscious and shun illegal urban farming practices.
Environmental hazards caused by unsustainable illegal urban farming made it more costly for local authorities to treat water for domestic use as it will need more chemicals to improve its quality as destroyed wetlands can no longer efficiently remove impurities.
Harare City Council (HCC) acting spokesperson Innocent Ruwende said urban farmers should seek guidance from local authorities by-laws before ignorantly embarking on the practice.
“Farming on wetlands, stream banks and steep slopes is illegal. We are discouraging such practices,” he said.
Warren Park 1-2 councillor Tichavona Mhetu has engaged with residents from his ward concerning the hazards of illegal urban farming.
“I conducted several meetings with the urban farmers highlighting sustainability issues on the methods of farming they employ. Also informing them about the alarming rate at which Lake Chivero is being silted.
“I went on to advise them to make fresh applications to council so that council could then turn down applicants practicing streambank cultivation and steep slope farming. Hundreds of farmers applied and then I engaged the director of housing to come up with a template and am hopeful that it will be ready for the next farming season,” he said.
In Warren Park 1-2 farming on steep slopes, terrains like mountain slopes, is affecting slope stability hence increasing chances of landslides as well as general soil erosion.
Climate change, a product of environmentally hazardous human practices, has been felt more acutely lately with Cyclone Ana last month wreaking havoc in Chipinge, Chimanimani, Muzarabani and Nyanga.