Farmers in Concession Face Growing Challenges as Urbanization Encroaches on Farmland

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In Concession, about 55 kilometers from Harare, Hazvinei Mangwena, a subsistence farmer, surveys what remains of her crop in a hillside field. Downhill, where part of her field once lay, a sprawling settlement has emerged, encroaching on farmland and pressuring farmers like Mangwena to seek new areas for cultivation.

As urbanization continues to spread, farmers are clearing swathes of nearby hills to create new farmland. “At least no one can disturb me here, claiming I’m farming on their residential stand. It’s peaceful,” Mangwena says, though this new form of cultivation brings its own set of challenges.

The conflict between agriculture and urbanization is intensifying, exacerbating food insecurity in Zimbabwe. The country is already grappling with the effects of an El Niño-induced drought, leaving over 2.7 million people vulnerable to starvation. In response, hillside farming—referred to as “mountain fields”—has gained popularity in areas like Mazowe and Concession. However, this shift presents numerous difficulties.

Mangwena’s yield has significantly decreased. “I used to yield about two tonnes, but now I produce less than half a tonne, which has to sustain my extended family throughout the year,” she says. The steep, rocky terrain makes it impossible for tractors or oxen to reach the fields, forcing farmers to clear land with hoes and axes.

The use of fertilizers has increased, but the yield remains low. Transporting the harvest is another challenge. “Many think we roll sacks of maize downhill, but we have to lift them, dodging large boulders that can tear the sacks and cause loss,” Mangwena explains.

Locadia Danger, another farmer from Concession, notes that crops on hilly land are more vulnerable to erratic rainfall. “If we get low rainfall, the crops die. If it’s normal, the water flows downhill, and if it’s heavy, the crops are destroyed as the thin topsoil layer washes away,” she says. Danger has had to limit her cultivation to maize, as the terrain makes crop rotation difficult.

Earnmore Sikweya, another farmer, echoes these sentiments. “Farming on hills is tough. The ground is pebbly, and we’re limited to maize because other crops are consumed by wild animals before they bud,” she says. The harvest has to be reaped earlier to avoid competition with wildlife.

Research supports the farmers’ experiences. A 2017 paper by the United States’ National Library of Medicine highlights that smallholder mountain farmers often lack access to best agronomic practices and affordable farm tools, leading to lower productivity. Source Trace Systems, a digital solutions think-tank, states that mountain farming yields are at least 40% lower than those on plains due to challenging weather and soil conditions.

In rural areas, the problem is compounded by mining activities. Ngoni Chikowe of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (Zimsoff) points out that displacement of farmers due to urban expansion and mining, particularly favoring Chinese interests, is common. “Policies on land tenure need scrutiny to protect rural farming communities. Mining companies and individuals harming the environment should be fined,” Chikowe says.

Climate change expert Lawrence Mashungu stresses the need for synchronized legislation governing mining and urbanization with constitutional provisions. “The Mining Act takes precedence over everything else, prioritizing mining claims over other activities. We need to balance this with the right to life and consider special farming zones,” Mashungu advises.

For farmers like Mangwena, the loss of arable land is irreplaceable.

“This is the only option left. Whenever I need more land, I’ll clear another piece in the hills,” she says, reflecting the grim reality facing many subsistence farmers in Zimbabwe. – News Hawk