Cattle on the airfield. Yes, cows and bulls, not jets, helicopters and air taxis. The sight of a herd of dairy cattle grazing at Mzuzu Airport gives a glimpse of the leafy city’s dwellers have taken urban agriculture to new levels, gradually turning the Northern Region’s commercial hub into a farming zone.
Driving along the M1 Road one does not miss the sight of livestock in what is supposed to be an aviation area and the growing of commercial crops like tobacco in the heart of the city.
In an interview, the city’s acting chief executive officer, Victor Masina, said urban agriculture is prohibited in the country’s third largest city where nearly half of the residents engage in subsistence farming.
He said through town and country planning committee, the council permitted urban agriculture in the far-flung Lunyangwa and Choma area and not the heart of the city as is the case.
“We prohibit cattle grazing in the city; hence, we have written the owner of the cattle grazing at the airport, failing which we will take action as stipulated in the Public Health Act,” Masina said.
He said some city dwellers complained to the council, which in a way might affect the council’s business.
“When people complain, it means our business is being negatively affected as they cannot respond positively to our demands,” he said.
Urban areas have long been regarded as markets for agriculture produce from rural and suburban areas where farming is the main economic activity.
According to the 2008 National Land Use Planning and Management Policy, with increasing rapid urbanisation, food insecurity and rising commodity prices amidst shrinking financial resources, city dwellers practice farming as a commercial activity.
“While urban agriculture contributes to food security and income generation considering the low incomes, it can also affect the environment and cause health and safety problems,” it reads in part.
The 2013-2017 Mzuzu City Council Urban Profile says half of households in the city perform subsistence farming and is the biggest share within the Employment Structure.
This makes Mzuzu to have the highest rate of farming among the urban centres in the country as compared to Lilongwe with 7.5 percent, Blantyre six percent and Zomba at 10.5 percent.