An African Experiment in Urban Farming
What do you do if you have a passion for agriculture and a degree in horticulture, but have no land of your own and live in a country in which the majority of people your age are underemployed?
At 23 years of age, Munyaradzi (Munya) Shamuyarira of Harare, Zimbabwe, approached his parents — who are my parents' neighbors — and asked if he could turn their subsistence backyard garden into an urban farm by improving the quality of the soil and building a greenhouse.
Initially, his parents were skeptical, but allowed their son to develop their acre of land. Now, two years later, Munya boasts a flourishing production. I caught up with the self-proclaimed "born farmer" on a recent visit to my parents' house. As we toured his urban farm, Munya gave me insight into his operation, nutrition in Zimbabwe and the challenges he faces as a young person pursing farming in urban Africa.
Getting His Start
As a member of the Young Farmer's Club of the Zimbabwe Farmer's Union, Munya was knowledgeable on the country's Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset), which included food security and nutrition initiatives to produce enough nutritious food to not only feed the country but help it re-emerge as the "Bread Basket of Southern Africa." Rather than use his education and skills to grow profitable cash crops such as tobacco, he chose to produce food and tap into under-explored opportunities in urban farming. With savings from a short-term consulting contract, his urban farm was built.
Today, Munya boasts a myriad of vegetables including tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers and cauliflower, most of which are sold in local supermarkets.
In addition to expertise (the mythical "green thumb") no farm flourishes without access to water, good soil and adequate nutrients from fertilizer, manure and compost. Munya's greenhouse is equipped with drip irrigation with water sourced from a well located directly on the property. He is constantly building the soil with manure and mulch from reliable sources and compost from stalks, leaves and other plant materials left after a harvest. After interacting with a relatively young Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Promoters Association and learning the benefits of organic farming, Munya made the switch to organice and hopes to one day become a certified organic farmer and export some of his produce.
Challenges and Limitations
While Munya clearly runs a productive farm, the lack of space has limited his ability to rotate crops and provide a wider variety. In addition, penetrating the market has not been easy. Supermarkets require a consistent supply of fresh produce, but due to limited land access and the lack of financing opportunities for someone his age, Munya is unable to meet this demand and secure independent contracts. Consequently, he employs the services of a middleman to bring his produce to market.
When asked to advise aspiring farmers, Munya did not hesitate to say that farming is progressive and it takes time to build both the skill and a successful operation. One must be serious and fully conscious of expectations before indulging in it. It is a difficult, time-consuming job that requires some risk. However committing to it can be worthwhile — high risks equal high returns.
Watch Munya on His Urban Farm
Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RD, is a California-based registered dietitian of Zimbabwean descent. She is passionate about African diets and the prevention of chronic diseases. Read her blog, The African Pot Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
(Photo: Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RD)