For most people, suburban life represents an escape from the hustle and bustle of high-rise buildings, traffic jams, parking fees and high food costs in central business districts and town centres. Suburban life is associated with quiet mornings and sometimes the sound of birds merrily chirping the day away whilst one is in the comfort of his/her home. But suburbia can be much more than that as proven by urban farmer Patience Moyo of Bellevue suburb in Bulawayo. She has taken advantage of urban offerings to be agriculturally productive.
The need for urban agriculture has grown over the last thirty years, with economic chaos bringing real hardships to urban residents across Zimbabwe. Covid-19 accelerated this chaos as movement restrictions and the closing of businesses made stable employment even less likely. For some residents, urban food production systems represent an additional source of income whilst for others it has become their sole source of livelihood.
The three types of urban farming are backyard farming, open space farming and formal plots. Many urban residents with spacious yards practice backyard farming, which is also true for Patience.
With over 38 years work experience as a teacher, she began her farming journey to generate extra income, produce her own food, cut expenses, optimise functionality of her land and also for relaxation purposes as a hobby.
Funding for her agricultural projects has been through bank loans, savings from her salary and through reinvestment of returns from the sales of her produce. Financial sustainability of her horticultural agribusiness comes through having a fixed plan in place to ensure continuity of her projects.
Most of her farming knowledge and wisdom she has attained through attending a variety of short courses and watching television programmes such as Agribusiness and Talking Farming shown on national television, specifically through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). She also gains more from studying agricultural related magazines and books.
Information technology has aided the growth of her agribusiness as she utilises various platforms to sell her produce, such as the internet, WhatsApp groups and by using telecommunication services.
Agricultural bodies and institutions in Zimbabwe have supported her journey by assisting with soil testing and guiding her through their interpretations to grow produce suited for her soil and to make the right choices when it comes to fertiliser application.
She says the main challenges she has faced in running her business are frost and the constant change in currency. As the effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced, farmers are experiencing lower than usual temperatures in winter, and temperature sensitive crops, such as tomatoes, suffer.
The changes in the economic ambience have resulted in producers having to constantly change their prices and, at times, even alter their currency of trade to remain afloat. Patience prefers payments in US dollar.
She has found the market to be good and stable as she sells most of her produce to co-workers, neighbourhood residents, middlemen and a Choppies supermarket that caters to the household needs of four neighbourhoods close to Bellevue. It is conveniently located as it is a ten-minute drive from her home. She supplies her customers as per demand, thus reducing unnecessary harvesting and post-harvest losses.
It is her hope to one day venture into garlic production for the export market. Garlic production has seen an increase in participation from many farmers over the last decade due to the demand from niche markets and added value through exporting.
She acknowledges that the profitability of agriculture in Zimbabwe is owed in part to its agriculturally friendly soils and weather. One can start small without having to look for large amounts of money. Production systems are easy to set up with some land, water, capital, and knowledge.
She reiterated that agriculture promotes self-reliance, thus reduces the need for food aid. It also helps prevent hunger and malnutrition while generating income.
Urban agriculture has been practiced for a long time in Bulawayo and other Zimbabwean cities, but in an informal manner due to perceived prohibitive urban policies and legislations.
The steadily increasing popularity of urban farming prompted the establishment of a city council interdepartmental committee in Bulawayo to examine the possibility of formalising urban agriculture in the city. The committee will review the existing urban agriculture policy and formulate proposals and policy guidelines for its development. This development will see other women like Patience Moyo operate on larger and more competitive scales.