The rainy season is upon us and scores of people can be seen tilling open land in urban areas, but many farmers who visited their fields during the last harvesting season were shocked to find out that “their” fields have been turned into religious shrines.
“What used to be my field has been turned into a church. They have demarcated my field with clay pots and white cloths,” fumed one urban farmer.
Recently, Glen View residents were treated to a lifetime drama when local farmers teamed up to chase away congregants who were praying on an open piece of land in the area.
The urban farmers claimed the church had literally taken over their tilling land and turned it into a religious shrine.
Lizzie Mugove said she inherited the land from her now deceased parents who had been tilling it since 1972.
“Churches are mushrooming everywhere.
They have taken over our land and turned it into religious shrines. We let them do that during the dry season and now the rains are upon us they refuse to vacate and we are left with no choice but to chase them,” said Mugove.
The farmer said the government had supported urban agriculture because it significantly contributed to the food basket in the country.
“The government knows of our plight. We are striving to survive and the little food we harvest goes a long way in alleviating hunger. In fact, I have never bought mealie meal because I have been ploughing this land over the years,” added Mugove.
Apostolic Lightness Church leader Madzibaba Gabriel Ngovani said the farmers were “persecuting” them because they were the messengers of “darkness”.
“No one bothered to tell us that it was someone’s land. We built this church in May and now they are claiming it’s their land. No one owns land, only the city council.
They have no right to eject us and they can go and report to the police, but we pray the Lord have mercy on them because they are fighting against the Holy Ghost,” said Ngovani.
Many farmers in Harare said they had often clashed with churches who want to occupy “their” tilling land. Cases of clashes between farmers and parishioners have been witnessed in areas such as Warren Park, Kuwadzana and Highfield, among others.
Local Government, Rural and Urban Development minister Ignatius Chombo had in the past defended urban farmers saying they were “essential partners” in fighting poverty. In January City of Harare workers slashed maize, which irked Chombo.
“As minister responsible for Local Government, I share the sense of revulsion expressed by the community and can not be reduced to an observer while the rights of innocent people are being trampled upon with reckless abandon,” he said in a statement.
“It therefore stands to reason that local authorities would have put in place the necessary monitoring and control measures, in consultation with urban farmers, ahead of the land tillage. I am at pains to accept the flimsy excuses advanced for slashing maize at tasselling stage on grounds of security,” Chombo said at the time.
The farmers said Chombo was aware of their activities and had indirectly legalised urban farming.
“The incident which happened when municipal workers slashed farmers’ maize in Kuwadzana showed that Chombo acknowledges the pivotal role we play in food production, so churches should not just invade our land and get away with it.
We shall continue to fight them (churches) until they find a suitable place to worship,” said one farmer, Norman Mbiri.
In recent years, the government allocated 60 000 hectares of land for urban agriculture in Harare in a bid to eradicate poverty in urban areas. This was after the government realised many families in urban areas were actually surviving on maize planted on the small patches of land.
Handing over the land, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister Chombo said the government had set aside land for urban farming because it had the potential of eradicating poverty in cities.
In the past, only people in high-density areas were actively involved in urban cultivation, but the situation has since changed with green belts sprouting in all suburbs, including the most affluent areas.
Delegates to the Urban Councils’ Association of Zimbabwe 61st Annual Conference, attended by Chombo, executive mayors, town clerks, council committees and other representatives, underlined that intra-urban and peri-urban agriculture contributes to urban food security, poverty reduction, local economic development and sustainable development.
After deliberations on urban agriculture and other issues concerning local authorities, delegates made a declaration to promote and acknowledge urban agriculture.
The declaration, known as the “Nyanga Declaration on Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture, Zimbabwe”. reaffirms the government’s local authority and non-governmental organisations’ commitment to the improvement of urban management through promotion of urban agriculture in cities so as to enhance urban food security and address urban poverty, among other issues.