The world's population is becoming increasingly urban. Today, 45 percent of all human beings live in urban areas; by the year 2025, this figure will increase to 65 percent. Urbanization, occurring most rapidly in the developing countries, is causing major social and economic changes, with repercussions in every sector.

In developing countries, many of today's urban poor were yesterday's rural poor. Among other immediate, basic needs, they bring to the cities with them their needs for fuelwood, low-cost construction materials and other wood products; easily accessible and affordable food; and an adequate supply of clean drinking water and water for household use. Not only must their needs and those of the people already living there be considered, but also how to fulfil those needs while maintaining or improving the urban environment. Urban/peri-urban forestry offers various potential benefits, including provisioning the urban poor with some forestry products, mitigating the ecological effects of urban sprawl, and improving the living environment in urban areas. Strategies for realizing these benefits have to be developed and planning of urban forestry initiatives integrated into overall urban planning. Technical needs, as well as the financial, human and institutional resources required must be recognized. Means of involving local people and forging links between the private, public and academic sectors should be encouraged.

The FAO Forestry Department has been involved in urban forestry through various field projects, such as watershed management in peri-urban areas and peri-urban greenbelts and fuelwood plantations in semi-arid areas. Urban forestry has received considerable attention in recent World Forestry Congresses. Two issues of FAO's forestry journal, UNASYLVA, have focused on urban forestry. The following publication, however, is the first in a series of activities planned under the new urban forestry programme of the Department to deal with urban forestry on a more comprehensive basis. This document is intended to be a preliminary assessment of the potential of urban forestry in developing countries. It is clear from surveying the available literature, that although good documentation exists on urban forestry efforts in developed countries, the literature for developing countries is limited and scattered. Little effort has been made to date to synthesize the experience in developing countries. We hope that this document contributes to a better understanding of the status of urban forestry in developing countries and of the related issues, and helps to point the way for future work in this field.

This document is the result of a desk study drawing upon available literature, directed enquiries, and to a certain extent personal observations by the author, Dr. Elizabeth Jane Carter, of the Overseas Development Institute, London, U.K. To her, and to her colleagues at the Rural Development Forestry Network, we owe much thanks for an excellent work. We acknowledge, with gratitude, the many other people, listed under “Personal Communications”, who contributed their ideas and information to this document. Susan Braatz, Forestry Officer (Land Use and Agroforestry), Forest and Wildlands Conservation Branch, organized and managed the study, edited this document, and wrote the concluding chapter.

J.P. Lanly
Forest Resources Division

Forestry Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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1.1.   Definition of the term ‘urban’
1.2.   Definitions and concepts of urban forestry


2.1.   Urbanization in the Third World: development and trends
2.2.   Growing environmental concerns


3.1.   Biogeographical zonation
3.2.   Ownership of, and access to, land and tree resources
3.3.   A simple spatial model


4.1.   Material benefits
4.2.   Environmental benefits
4.3.   Potential problems


5.1.   A participatory approach
5.2.   Meeting the needs of the poor
5.3.   Gender aspects
5.4.   Cultural and religious aspects
5.5.   Local knowledge and attitudes


6.1.   Tree establishment decisions
6.2.   Arboricultural practices
6.3.   Urban tree inventories


7.1.   Key players: an overview
7.2.   The role of different players
7.3.   Legal issues in urban tree management





2.1.   One possible scenario of changes over time in tree cultivation and management at the urban fringe

3.1.   Types of urban land cover and biogeographic conditions

3.2.   A biogeographic zonation of urban forestry potential in developing countries

3.3.   Ownership of land in urban settlements

4.1.   Fuelwood from the peri-urban plantations of Addis Ababa

4.2.   Urban agroforestry for food security and improved nutrition: Pacific island home gardens

4.3.   Tree planting for micro-climatic amelioration: Nanjing, China

4.4.   Human activities associated with avenue trees on the Barrackpore Trunk Road, Calcutta, India

4.5.   The greening of a factory: Capital Iron and Steel Corporation, Beijing City

4.6.   Effects of trees and associated vegetation on air pollutants

4.7.   Theoretical considerations governing the choice of trees and plant associations for reducing atmospheric pollution

4.8.   Trees for erosion control and other purposes: Working with the dislocados of Nampula City, Mozambique

4.9.   Shivapuri Watershed Management and Fuelwood Plantation Project, Nepal

6.1.   Tree planting for different objectives: key attributes to be considered

6.2.   Desirable attributes for a street tree: possible differences in perspective

6.3.   Site conditions common in urban environments, and desirable attributes for trees planted on such sites

6.4.   Urban Tree Inventories: Questions to consider when evaluating their necessity

7.1.   Some of the major players potentially involved in urban forestry in developing countries

7.2.   Quito, Ecuador: an inter-disciplinary plan for urban forestry

7.3.   Examples of legislation protecting urban trees in developing countries


1.    The world's population is rapidly becoming more urbanized. It is predicted that by the year 2000 over 50% of the people of the world will live in towns or cities. In developed regions the population is already predominantly urban, but it is in developing countries that a rapid transformation from rural to urban societies is currently taking place. The average annual growth rate of urban populations in developing countries for the period 1990–1995 is calculated to be 4.2% per annum, compared with 0.8% in developed countries. Latin America has taken the lead in urbanization, with nearly three-quarters of the region's population living in urban centres in 1990; in Asia and Africa, the figure is closer to one-third. There are huge and growing environmental problems in many urban areas of the developing world, which are raising general concern about the sustainability of their development. Urban trees make a positive contribution to living conditions in and around Third World towns and cities, and may have potential for more. This paper reviews available information in this regard.     (1.1; 2.1).

2.    Urban forestry is defined as the planned, integrated and systematic approach to the management of trees in urban and peri-urban areas for their contribution to the physiological, sociological, and economic well-being of urban society. Urban forestry is multifaceted; it deals with woodlands, groups of trees, and individual trees where dense conglomerations of people live, involves a wide variety of habitats (streets, parks, derelict corners, etc), and is concerned with a great range of benefits and problems.     (1.2).

3.    The successful incorporation of trees into the physical and social fabric of towns and cities requires incorporating forestry into overall urban planning. Such integrated planning is only beginning to take place in many developed countries, and there appear to be few examples of it in urban settlements of the Third World.     (1.2; 7.1; 7.2).

4.    Most literature available on urban forestry concerns trees, rather than the people who might benefit from them. There is a particular dearth of published information about the relationship of Third World urban dwellers (particularly the poor) to urban trees and forests; on whether or not they value, use, or would like to use trees; and how urban trees affect their health and well-being.     (1.1; 5.2).

5.    Third World towns and cities are characterized by different zones, within which the current extent and potential for urban forestry varies. These may be described in terms of biogeography, land ownership, or simple categories of spatial location. It is a fact that in many urban areas space for tree cultivation is very limited; the challenge is to maximise the use of what space is, or can be, made available.     (3.1; 3.2; 3.3).

6.    Trees cultivated in urban areas of the developing world may provide a variety of both environmental and material benefits. Material benefits include fuelwood; food; fodder; timber and poles; spices, fibres, medicines and other non-timber products. These may fulfil subsistence needs, or be used as a means of income generation.     (4.1).

7.    Environmental benefits to be gained from urban trees in the developing world include landscape enhancement, recreation, education, and general well-being; a habitat for wildlife; climatic modification; the control of air and noise pollution; erosion control; the protection of catchment areas for urban water supplies; and the productive use or safe disposal of urban wastes.     (4.2).

8.    Trees in an urban environment also pose a variety of potential problems. Apart from the sometimes high cost of their establishment and maintenance, they may be a hazard to human safety (either directly or indirectly), cause structural damage to buildings and other infrastructure, and possibly obstruct the supply of solar energy to solar power generators. Urban trees are also subject to vandalism, and the dumping of waste.     (4.3).

9.    As far as possible, a participatory approach should be adopted in future urban forestry initiatives in developing countries. Ideally, from the choice of tree species to actual planting, tending and (where appropriate) harvesting of tree products, urban dwellers should be able to participate in decision-making and implementation if they so wish. How this is organized will depend upon local circumstances; the practicalities are recognised to be difficult. Particular consideration should be given to the needs of the urban poor, gender aspects, cultural and religious matters, and local knowledge and expertise.     (5.1; 5.2; 5.3; 5.4; 5.5).

10.    The range of benefits and problems associated with trees in urban areas should be carefully considered prior to planting. The choice of tree species/provenance/ cultivar should reflect the function the tree(s) is/are to perform; the priorities of those who will be affected by the trees; the site to be planted; and consideration of future management requirements. Too often, the selection of tree(s) appears to be determined by a limited available planting stock. This is at least partly the cause of a limited species diversity observed in many urban amenity tree plantings in developing countries (a phenomenon also found to some extent in developed countries).     (6.1).

11.    Urban trees require thorough and regular maintenance if problems (see 8 above) are to be avoided. Arboricultural practices that are equally applicable in developing as well as developed countries include proper site preparation, planting, general maintenance and tending (including tree surgery). Provision for rapid and effective disposal of tree waste is essential.     (6.2).

12.    The proper management of urban forests implies a knowledge of the number of trees within the urban area; their species composition, age and condition. To date, such information is largely unavailable; in very few towns/cities in developing countries has an urban tree inventory been conducted.     (6.3).

13.    Little is known about how responsibility for urban tree planting and maintenance is apportioned in different towns/cities and countries of the Third World. A variety of key players may be identified, from individual urban residents and local groups to politicians, government departments, municipal authorities, large donor agencies, NGOs, corporate businesses and academic institutions.     (7.1; 7.2).

14.    For the effective, planned and systematic management of trees in cities, a measure of legal control is necessary. The extent to which this exists, and, more importantly, is enforced, varies considerably in the Third World.     (7.3).

15.    This study raises a number of key issues to be addressed in developing urban forestry in the Third World. One obvious need is to improve documentation of experiences, gather and synthesize available information, and carry out studies to examine critical issues in greater depth. Areas needing further investigation include: approaches and methodologies for planning urban forestry programmes; the relative importance of the environmental and productive functions of urban forestry; degree and means of encouraging local participation in urban forestry initiatives; building up the technical knowledge base; and developing an adequate institutional framework to support urban forestry. Improving the knowledge base and the planning and implementation of urban forestry programmes will necessarily be a joint effort between a variety of actors in the cities and developing countries themselves. This effort can be assisted by development agencies, who have a role to play in information generation and dissemination, networking, strengthening institutional capabilities in planning and implementation of urban forestry initiatives, and providing financial and technical assistance to urban forestry programmes.     (8.0).