The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations measures the concept of food security through four pillars: the availability, access, utilization, and stability of food resources. As food is a critical resource, food security is centrally important to the development of sustainable cities. The ability of citizens to sufficiently access nutritious food resources directly affects their ability to engage in other social, political and economic activities. Food insecurity is most prevalent in the Global South, with the highest rates found throughout the countries in Africa. The combined effects of climate change and population growth are predicted to have devastating impacts on food production in sub-Saharan Africa.
The following wiki assesses urban food security in the global south, using the city of Harare as a case study. First, an overview lays out the significance of food security in the global south and how economic theories, such as dependency theory and trickle-down economics, are not always applicable to issues in the global south. Zimbabwe’s political turmoil and economic crisis will be briefly discussed in relation to its impact on food security and Harare’s urban population. The case study of Harare examines urban agriculture as a response to food insecurity in Harare through three lenses: public space, poverty, and gender.
Although there is currently enough food in the world to feed the global population, it is not equitably distributed, resulting in food insecurity in many regions. A 2017 study by the FAO found that 770,000,000 people were severely food insecure. Of these, over 370,000,000 are located in Africa. This distributional shortcoming highlights the central importance of the accessibility pillar of food security in the Global South. Given the rapid urbanization of the Global South, there is an urgent need for mechanisms that address food insecurity through a distinctly urban lens. Current food production systems have failed to adapt adequately to widespread rural-to-urban migration, hindering sustainable urban growth. Urban dwellers are often reliant on food that is produced outside of city bounds and sold in markets. This system promotes international food commodities and favors western retailing methods.These retail systems such as supermarkets, which respond to the needs of the Global North, are often unaffordable and inaccessible to disadvantaged communities in the Global South.
The combination of inflated food costs and relatively low wages particularly affects impoverished urban populations. As they struggle to afford basic food products, little to no income is left over for other investments, such as housing and healthcare. Moreover, the pressures of irregular and unpredictable financial pinches in food prices have been shown to negatively impact mental well-being. In some cases, ‘access anxiety’, caused by the stress of a lack of access to food, makes sustaining life in the city impossible and forces people to move back into rural sectors.
As seen through the connections mentioned above, it is therefore critical that food security not be examined as an isolated issue. Responses to food insecurity have often failed to adequately address how multilayered the issue is. The limited scope of these responses have restricted their ability to address food insecurity, and may have even led to increased severity in some regions.Efforts to address food insecurity have often been based around Western development theories such as Rostow's stages of growth and structural adjustment. These theories have stressed the importance of neoliberal policies such as austerity and free trade. The centrality of such neoliberal policies has often led to the prioritization of privatization, globalization, industrialization and economic growth rather than the sustainable distribution and development of land, resources and peoples.
Zimbabwe has suffered from the effect of such policies in combination with political instability. Zimbabwe's declining economic situation over the past two decades has demonstrated how institutional instability can negatively affect the food security of urban populations in the global south. As a response to economic and political instability, many urban residents have adopted a grassroots approach through urban agriculture (UA) that has the potential to alleviate poverty, provide means of sustenance for women, and challenge the restrictive legalities of public space in Harare.
Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe and acts as its economic and political center. Recently, Zimbabwe’s economy has experienced a sustained period of economic decline. The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme implemented under the encouragement of the World Bank resulted in factory closures, a decline in real wages and substantial increases in consumer prices in the early 1990's. Importantly, this Programme was found to have had a more direct negative impact on residents of the capital city of Harare. Throughout the 2000’s, the government’s land reform program disrupted food production in rural regions, affecting the flow of food towards the city of Harare. Following hyperinflation and the subsequent abandonment of the Zimbabwean Dollar in 2009, a cash crisis emerged. The absence of a viable national currency has resulted in the use of foreign currency and bond notes, resulting in further economic uncertainty.
The local food processing industry has also suffered under the economically restrictive business conditions stemming from this crisis, resulting in many basic goods being imported. These imported goods are often far more expensive than those that were locally produced, making them inaccessible to the city’s poorest citizens. These factors have resulted in exceptionally high food prices and high rates of food insecurity in the city of Harare. One study from 2009 found that Harare had the lowest food security of the eleven southern African cities that were studied. Urban agriculture, which has always taken place in Harare, has seen recent growth as an informal response to this increasing food insecurity.
Due to the presence of vleis that make construction projects expensive and difficult, there is a significant amount of public land in the city. In Harare, public land is formally owned by the urban government and is open to legal use by the general public. However, as of 2003, agriculture was not recognized as a legal urban activity in Harare, leaving urban agriculture on this public land in a grey area legally. Due to this lack of explicit policy, high risks of crime, removal, and land insecurity are encountered by those practicing urban agriculture in public spaces. Increasing demand for both private housing and commercial projects in Harare threaten the availability of this public land for agriculture in the future. Despite this uncertainty, the urban poor often grow on public lands because they need a way to obtain food and their small housing lots do not always have extra space for private cultivation. Thus, although UA sites can be risky, have poor quality soil, and produce low yields, practices are still vital and beneficial for the food insecure in the current economic climate. In fact, urban agriculture on public lands remains a integral sector of the urban economy of the area.
However, despite the value of public space UA and its potential to bring meaningful improvements and empowerment for the urban poor of Harare, success has been under-recognized by the government. When not ignoring the land, local authorities have prohibitively slashed both illegal and legally grown crops, only adding to the extreme food insecurity of the area.
In order to foster growth, the government needs to acknowledge UA and shape progressive policy enabling it to be a growing solution to the multilayered food security crisis.
The necessity of urban farming is directly related to inflation and ensuing economic instability experienced at the national and local level. In 2003, about 66% of Harare was food insecure. Due to the unaffordability of basic commodities, poor households in Harare spend anywhere from 30-80% of their income on food. Food is not only inaccessible due to inflated prices, but also unavailable in some contexts in the “formal market”. Additionally, many citizens lack access to unregulated and informal markets where food staples are available due to the means of exchange being foreign currency, which most of the urban poor do not earn.
While about 20% of urban farmers solely farm as a means to supplement income, most urban farmers seek improved access to staple foods through food production. UA households have been found to be twice as food secure as non-UA households and rely less on poverty coping mechanisms such as rationing and reducing the diversity of food in their daily diet. Producing food reduces the amount of financial burden associated with purchasing food from formal markets, which increases urban dwellers’ available income that can be allocated to other necessities.
Urban poverty is also not recognized by the municipal government as a pressing concern, which further hinders the urban poor’s ability to improve their food security. Urban policies have not factored in the permanence of urban farming as a means to alleviate food insecurity. This has been attributed to the municipal government’s rural bias towards food production. Informal markets are also limited by restrictive government policies, such as Operation Murambatsvina, further inhibiting the ability of the poor to engage in the economy. Such events indicate a reluctance from the government to accept the legitimacy of informal housing and markets, a trend which has disproportionately affected the poorest residents of the city. As the next section explores, a gendered lens reveals that urban agriculture also disproportionately impacts women’s ability to have a food secure household.
Urban agriculture has become especially central in achieving food security for the women of Harare. Traditional gender roles in the country see household food security as the responsibility of the 'mother' of the house. Achieving food security is a challenge as most women do not earn their own income or have equal property rights to those of men. Instead, they rely fully on the “little” salaries of the husband. Women are discouraged from participating in the formal economy and by and large operate in the informal sector; their main tasks are therefore the unpaid management of household finances and reproductive labor. Operating under unstable economic conditions with a lack of personal income restricts their ability to buy food. Therefore urban agriculture emerges as an effective way to challenge this food insecurity. In addition to ensuring access to food, urban agriculture also provides some women of Harare with the opportunity to sell surplus produce and generate an income.
However, not all women have benefited equally from urban agriculture. While urban agriculture has brought prosperity by improving the food security of some women in Harare, the availability of land for urban agriculture remains inequitably distributed. Studies have also shown that a majority of the female agricultural workforce are either middle aged or elderly. As childcare often takes up much of the time of young women, they struggle to find the time to participate in urban agriculture. Food security also varies spatially within the city and as frequent outbreaks of disease such as cholera in the high-density areas of Harare are a threat towards the utilization of food grown in that area, UA is often done on communal and off-plot rather than private land.
Urban agriculture has empowered the people of Harare to alleviate their situations of food insecurity. Despite the drivers of food insecurity, such as post-colonial policy, gender inequality and government corruption, citizens of Harare have combated some of the effects of food shortages & economic pressures through UA practices. However, political and social inequalities must still be addressed if UA is to expand and have a more widespread impact on economic livelihoods in Harare. While UA is not a perfect solution in Harare, it is critical to recognize its success as a grassroots by the urban poor – particularly females – striving to improve their food security.
A takeaway is the utmost importance of supportive actions by the government in promoting innovative responses to multilayered issues, such as food insecurity. The influence of colonial policy on urban planning policy in Harare especially stood out to us. We think that the city would benefit from questioning whether such restrictive policies are beneficial to the so-called ‘urban development’ they are pursuing. As well, we were surprised about the extent of inequality that women face in Harare and how drastically it hindered their engagement and ability to benefit from UA practices. This highlights Food security's existence as a social issue, not just one of economic and supply challenges.
We found a shortage of recent literature on food security and urban agriculture in Harare, which limited the ability to comprehensively assess how the social, economic, and political dynamics of UA & food security have changed throughout the last decade. Updated information was lacking on topics ranging from the recent legal approaches of the Zimbabwean government to the impact of local civil society groups on UA policy. Thus, we recommend that further research around food security is of the essence.
Perhaps most importantly, the recognition of food security as a multidimensional issue in the global south is the biggest takeaway of this research. Food insecurity is a complex issue and no single approach will radically eliminate it in every case. Rather, as we’ve learned from this case study, a combination of several approaches that suit each city’s unique history and context can produce more sustainable results for food security in the long run.
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