Reaping gold through urban farming

Sustainable urban agriculture and urban food systems have swiftly moved from being a fringe interest to attracting the attention of many in cities and towns.

Unlike in recent years when farming was mostly for rural communities, urbanites have realised gold in the industry.

With formal employment hard to come by, graduates end up roaming the streets, instead of thinking of other ways of earning a living.

What most people do not realise is that Western forms of education are not the only key to success, as loads of money lie idle in the informal sector.

The perception that the formal sector is the primary source of employment is completely out of step with reality.

An informal sector, consisting of vendors, informal markets, home-based businesses as well as urban agriculture which exist alongside the formal sector would be the key to beat economic challenges.

The formal urban food supply system is made unaffordable and inaccessible to the poor because of low incomes and rising food prices which are straining citizens’ pockets.

Urban agriculture comes in as a poverty reduction strategy when families cannot provide enough, having to grow for own consumption and for sale.

Raising fresh fruits, vegetables, and some animal products near consumers in urban areas can improve local food security and nutrition, especially for under-served communities.

City-based farmers cultivate small pieces of urban land that provide food security for their families.

Some people have found hustling a success in the world of urban farming.

Ngoni Bhamu, who lives in Westlea, Harare, has established his business of growing and selling seedlings at his home.

The 56-year-old man has farmed the plot for 10 years now.

“I started growing vegetables and fruits, but I later realised there was much more in seedlings as a lot of customers asked for them,” he said.

Bhamu has utilised the open space opposite his homestead, and made his source of income.

Seedlings vary from tomatoes, rape, spinach, covo, chomolia, king onions, sweet potatoes and sugarloaf, neatly arranged into seven beds.

Some of the problems he faces include water, which is hardly available as Harare City Council does not abide by its regulations.

“To address the issue of water, I use my well, but around October, it dries up, so I have to find other means to water my garden,” said Bhamu.

He has established his business in such a way that customers come to his home to buy seedlings.

In the event that there are not enough customers, he sells his seedlings at Gazebo Mall in the area.

His customer base mostly consists of gardeners, farmers and homesteads.

They depend on the reliable and stable availability of food products, as well as affordable and convenient access to them.

“The current economic situation does not want people who sit and watch, but those who employ themselves, and be the employer that others are waiting for,” said Bhamu.

“With the money I get from farming, I take care of my family, thereby ensuring food security.”

Each of the seven beds he has on the piece of land, when sold out gives him between US$40 and US$50, but there are times when the seedlings do not sell out.

“I do not run a loss when stock does not sell. Because I have a family to feed, I simply grow the seedlings into vegetables,” he said.

But the problem he faces is trying to convince customers of the advantages of underground seeds as compared to those grown in trays.