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The pacific islands and beyond

R.R. Thaman

R.R. Thaman is Reader in Geography and Head of the School of Social and Economic Development at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

· In the Pacific islands, trees and agroforestry have always been, and will continue to be, central to social, economic, nutritional, spiritual and ecological well-being. Even with increasing urbanization, trees still dominate the landscape, and "urban agroforestry" is a well-established practice in all Pacific island towns. Trees are perhaps as important to urban people as they are to rural people, and the preservation, promotion, and improvement of urban agroforestry could be one of the most direct and economically, socially, ecologically and nutritionally appropriate means of bringing about sustainable development in the Pacific islands.

DOORYARD AGROFORESTRY IN SUVA, FIJI very common in Pacific island cities

Urban agroforestry is here defined as the planting, protection or preservation of trees for their economic, social and ecological value as part of agricultural and horticultural systems in urban areas, not only adjacent to houses and other buildings but also on undeveloped land within urban areas.

Unfortunately, most of today's Pacific island managerial elite (politicians, planners, policy-makers, agricultural scientists, doctors and senior health personnel, educators) either fail to recognize the importance of agroforestry, especially in the urban context, or are content to ignore it - unless of course it means the planting of exotic timber trees or export tree crops. It is not seen as giving the political mileage or as attracting the national and international attention that the more dramatic disaster relief operations, food aid programmes or large-scale, overseas-funded, "modern" development projects do. Similarly, urban agroforestry has few "operational entrepreneurs" to back it, as do urban industrial and commercial projects.

Finally, because of the current emphasis on urban- and white-collar-based formal academic education, few of the 'educated" urban elite truly understand the nature and critical developmental importance of tree planting, let alone the names of the trees that have nurtured their people for generations.

II could be argued in fact that, if greater priority is not given to the encouragement of tree planting and preservation and to agroforestry in both rural and urban areas, current trends of increasing dualism and economic disparity, increasing food dependency, deterioration of traditional food systems, increasing incidences of malnutrition and nutrition-related degenerative disease and environmental degradation will no doubt intensify. Some of the highest recorded rates of food dependency, for example, are found in countries or territories such as Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, American Samoa, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia (Fairbairn, 1971; McGee, 1975; Thaman, 1979, 1982a), and some of the highest or most rapidly increasing incidences of nutritional disorders - infant malnutrition, obesity and iron-deficiency anaemia - nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, gout and arthritis, cancer, alcoholism and dental disease are also found in Pacific island urban areas (Coyne, Badcock and Taylor, 1984; Thaman, 1983, 1984a, 1985a).

Present status of urban agroforestry

Two main types of Pacific island urban agriculture are agroforestry in urban areas and agroforestry in urbanized home gardens adjacent to residences in rural areas where large- and small-scale "non-home" commercial agricultural production may or may not be also practiced, often at some distance from the home. Agroforestry in urban areas can be further subdivided into "dooryard" agroforestry adjacent to residences and agroforestry on idle or undeveloped land within urban areas, but usually at a distance from the residence.

Dooryard urban agroforestry "Dooryard" urban agroforestry is today a ubiquitous feature of Pacific island urban landscapes. Even in areas not known for agricultural diversity, such as Kiribati and Nauru, urban gardens contain a wide range of food trees, non-tree staple and supplementary food plants and countless non-food plants (see Table).

Distinct food crops (species and distinct varieties) found present in surveys of urban agroforestry systems

Crop types

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Suva, Fiji

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

South Tarawa, Kiribati


Location 1

Food trees

2 30




2 14


Non-tree staples







Non-tree supplementary














1 Contract worker settlement. 2 The totals for Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where Musa clones and Citrus spp. respectively were not differentiated, would have been slightly higher for tree crops if these differentiations had been made.

AERIAL VIEW OF SUVA SUBURB backyards full of productive trees

BACKYARD IN PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA are major economic contributors

Random surveys of home gar dens in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Suva, Fiji; Nuku'alofa, Tonga; South Tarawa, Kiribati; Nauru and the "Location" contract worker settlement on Nauru indicated that at least 85, 114, 79, 61, 33 and 65 different species or distinct types of food plants, respectively, were cultivated in home gardens in these areas (Thaman, 1985b; and Table). These plants included: 1) a great variety of food trees including Musa clones, coconuts, bread-fruit, pandanus, citrus trees, papaya, guava, avocado, Annona, Ficus and Syzygium spp., and the beach almond (Terminalia catappa); 2) staple root crops such as taro, cassava, tannia, sweet potato, yams, giant taro and giant swamp taro; 3) a great range of supplementary non-tree food plants, including onions, amaranths, pineapple, peanuts, cabbages, a wide variety of legumes and "spinaches", cucurbits, okra, tomatoes, passion-fruit, sugar cane, eggplant and maize; 4) spices such as chilies, ginger, coriander, and mint; and 5) beverage, stimulant and depressant plants such as betel nut, betel pepper, kava (Piper methysticum), tobacco and lemon grass. Many of these plants were found present in a majority of home gardens.

In addition to these plants, there is an almost endless variety of useful non-food plants found in home gardens. These include important handicraft plants such as Pandanus spp., used in plaited ware; paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) used for bark or tape cloth; annatto (Bixa orellana), and koka (Bischofia javanica), both sources of dyes; Leucaena leucocephala, an important renewable fuelwood resource; a great range of medicinal plants and countless other plants of considerable technological, economic, social, ecological and ornamental value.

Grazing animals and pigs seem to accelerate deforestation in urban areas through the consumption or destruction of tree seedlings and saplings. Once established, however, trees and animals seem to coexist well.

As stressed by Soemarwoto et al. (1985) in their study of Javanese home gardens, true plant diversity is far greater than indicated by species differences, since many species are represented by numerous cultivars, all of which add economic, ecological and nutritional stability to urban agroforestry systems. In "tree gardens" in Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, for example, there are reportedly 21 named coconut cultivars, 28 bread-fruit cultivars and 37 banana cultivars (Falanruw, 1985).

There are also countless "weed" species, which are important components of urban agroforestry. Soemarwoto et al. (1985) caution that the term "weed" should be used with extreme care because of the many uses home gardeners have for weeds as medicines, fodder, mulch, roofing, fish poisons, toothbrushes and vegetables.

Staple crops The most common plants include traditionally important root crops, such as cassava, taro, sweet potato, yams, and tannia (Xanthosoma spp.), with giant taro (Alocasia macrorhiza) being important in Tonga and giant swamp taro (Cytosperma chamissonis) being particularly important in the very poor calcareous and saline soils of the low-lying atolls of Kiribati, where it is planted in pits excavated to the water-table.

True taro (Colocasia esculenta) is particularly well-suited to urban conditions because it can be grown on small plots, in wet conditions along drains and near water faucets or washing areas (Thaman, 1982b). Cassava and sweet potato commonly occupy large areas, and tannia is increasingly important, as it seems to be very disease-resistant, relatively! drought-resistant, and grows well in the shady conditions commonly encountered in older urban areas where mature trees dominate the environment.

Supplementary food crops Supplementary crops such as hibiscus spinach (Abelmoschus manihot), Amaranthus spp., pineapple, cabbages, chilies, taros (taro and tannia grown especially for their leaves), cucurbits, tomatoes, sugar cane, and a wide variety of edible legumes, plus a wide range of other supplementary food crops constitute critical nutritional and economic resources.

Food trees Although staple ground crops are most numerous, food trees such as coconut, bread-fruit, papaya, Citrus spp., mango, Musa clones, guava, Annona and Syzygium spp., avocado, Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagiferus), hog plum or vi apple (Spondias dulcis), the Pacific litchi (Pometia pinnata) and Terminalia spp. are the dominant plants of most urban landscapes, especially in long-settled areas.

Trees constitute a particularly important economic and nutritional resource on low-lying islands like the atolls of Kiribati, where apart from giant swamp taro, which is generally reserved for special occasions, the main staples are all tree crops: coconut, bread-fruit, Musa clones, pandanus, and the native fig or te bero (Ficus tinctoria). Similarly, as Falanruw (1985) reports, on High Islands in Yap "tree gardens" near homesteads "involved about 50 species of food trees alone". Trees of particular importance to the Indian population of Fiji (mostly descendants of indentured labourers who currently constitute approximately 50 percent of Fiji's population) include jack-fruit, horseradish or drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera), curry leaf or Indian bay (Murraya koenigii) and the tamarind.

Many families in government housing would not have been able to pay their rents if it were not for the estimated US$8-12 per family per week they saved by growing their own taro, cassava, tree crops and other foods.

Non-food plants A wide array of plants used for handicrafts, fuel, medicines, fibre, dyes, ornamentation, perfumes and deodorants, livestock feed, shade and construction materials are also important components of urban agroforestry systems.

Medicinal plants, for example, are a critical economic and cultural resource, given the extremely high and rapidly increasing costs - not to mention unavailability, misuse, and doubtful efficacy - of some imported medicines. In Fiji, where extensive areas of tropical rain forest, coastal strand, and mangrove forest still exist, 40 percent (73) of 183 plant species reportedly used medicinally by the indigenous Fijians (Weiner, 1984) are found in home gardens in a cultivated, protected or weedy state. On the smaller, more densely populated islands of Tonga and Kiribati, where only limited native vegetation remains as reservoirs or gene pools for endangered medicinal plants, approximately 75 percent of all reported medicinal plants (56 of 77 and 33 of 44, respectively) are found cultivated or protected in home gardens (Weiner, 1971; Luomala, 1953; Thaman, 1976). In Nauru, where over 70 years of open-cast phosphate mining and widespread bombing during the Second World War have devastated most of the natural and much of the traditional cultural vegetation, 28 (85 percent) of 33 reported medicinal plants are now found in Nauruan home gardens on the coastal strip.

Of the 93 medicinal plant species found in urban gardens in these four countries, 55 percent (51) were trees and another ten were woody shrubs. The totals for medicinal plants in Fiji urban gardens would undoubtedly be much higher if data on Indian medicinal plants were available.

The importance of sacred or perfumed plants to urban agroforestry is also considerable. Of some 49 plant species considered by Tongans to be sacred ('akau kakala), 36 were found present in a survey of home gardens in the capital, Nuku'alofa. Of the 36, 23 (64 percent) are trees and five others woody shrubs. In addition to their sacredness, such plants constitute a very significant economic resource. Their flowers, leaves, fruits and bark are used in leis and ornamentation for the expanding tourist industry, as well as being the main scents used in body oil (coconut oil), perfumes and deodorants, the imported substitutes for which are extremely expensive and often not so culturally acceptable. Evidence from Fiji, Kiribati and Nauru indicates that sacred and perfumed plants are of similar importance there.

Similar analyses of urban agroforestry systems for other plants which yield firewood, dyes, livestock feed, insect repellents, handicrafts, fish poison, etc. would undoubtedly also yield impressive lists of plants and uses. A recent study of the importance of trees to Pacific island societies (Thaman and Clarke, 1983), for example, categorized at least 56 common cultural and ecological functions or uses for trees.

There are also countless "weed" species, which are important components of urban agroforestry.

Nature of cropping The most common plants of Pacific urban agroforestry systems tend to be the traditionally important native plants or pre-European contact introductions, except where the gardeners are from immigrant populations. For example, the Indian population of Fiji prefers species such as eggplant, okra, Amaranthus spp., a wide range of pulses, beans and cucurbits, and tree crops such as coconut, jack-fruit, tamarind, mango, Citrus spp., curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), the sebesten plum (Cordia dichotoma), the horseradish or drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) and the spiritually and medicinally important neem (Azadirachta indica).

Despite the dominance of these traditionally favoured crops, there is also a great range of more recently introduced crops such as temperate vegetables, pineapple, papaya, avocado, guava, and improved Citrus and banana cultivars, as well as cassava, which is a ubiquitous and critically important local staple in most Pacific island towns (Thaman and Thomas, 1985). In fact, Pacific home gardens seem to have been and will probably continue to be one of the most effective avenues for the introduction and acceptance of new plant species.

In terms of actual area under food crops and their spatial distribution, there is likewise great diversity. Whereas some households have only a few scattered fruit-trees and vegetables, a considerable number cultivated food crops on over 50 percent of their allotments. Ornamentals are commonly planted closest to the home, often in front yards, and medicinal plants, sacred or fragrant plants, and other culturally valuable, commonly multipurpose plants, are scattered among the food plants.

INDONESIAN FISH POND AMID AGROFORESTRY the combinations are limitless

Urban agroforestry on undeveloped land Cultivation and/or protection of trees and non-tree plants on idle or undeveloped urban and pert-urban land is widespread and constitutes an important source of food and tree products such as timber, fence posts, fuelwood, medicines, leaves, flowers, fruits and nuts (Thaman, 1977a and b, 1984b, 1985b). Such areas include road frontages, empty adjacent allotments, river banks and valleys, rights-of-way for proposed or existing paths and roads, and open land in general, including hillsides, swampland, etc.

In Port Moresby, over one-third of all households had gardens on idle land in addition to their home gardens. Kilakila villagers, as original inhabitants of the area, had particularly large tracts of undeveloped urban savannah land. Moreover, all households had, in addition to their home gardens, from one to four "bush" gardens averaging 1135 m2, located on urban land within 3 km of the "urban village" of Kilakila.

In Suva, some 20 percent of all households cultivated "unused" open land, and it was estimated that on the 30 km2 Suva peninsula, of the area not under swamp or mangrove, approximately 5 km2 (over 70 percent) of the "undeveloped" area was under this type of cultivation. Some 20 percent of all households also planted along road frontages, despite Suva City Council regulations forbidding such practices.

In Tonga, Kiribati and Nauru, there is little if any open "urban" land, although, in a number of cases, Tongans planted entire adjacent unoccupied town allotments in food crops, usually under coconuts, bananas and other trees. There is virtually no open land in urban Kiribati, but in Nauru, contract workers plant food gardens near the Nauru Phosphate Corporation's "topside" workshops on the phosphate-rich central plateau and in the swampy area surrounding landlocked Buada Lagoon.

The most common species in "undeveloped areas" are again the staple root crops, particularly cassava, sweet potato, taro, yam and tannia. Important trees include Musa spp., papaya, mango, guava, bread-fruit, coconuts, Citrus and Syzygium spp., Pometia pinnata, Terminalia catappa, and a range of pioneer non-food species such as Hibiscus tiliaceus, Macaranga spp., Morinda citrifolia, Bischofia javanica (an aboriginal introduction which may be a remnant of "pre-urban" shifting agricultural activity), and Leucaena leucocephala, plus the recently introduced fiddlewood species (Citharexylum spinosum) and jambolan (Syzygium cumini) in Fiji and native Eucalyptus spp. in Port Moresby.

The importance of urban agroforestry and its implications for planning are not clearly understood by most planners and policy-makers.

UNDEVELOPED URBAN LAND ON FIJI an ideal site for urban agroforestry

HOME-GROWN FOOD ON NAURU ISLAND what works here can also else where

Along road frontages, fruit trees such as mangos and coconuts are common, but ornamental and shade trees such as Plumeria spp., flamboyant (Delonix regia), Cassia spp., monkeypod (Samanea saman), and the pride of India (Lagerstroemia speciosa) are dominant. Living fences of fruit trees and other useful species such as Polyscias spp., Leucaena leucocephala, Erythrina variegata, Hibiscus tiliaceus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, guava and the recently introduced madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium) are harvested, pruned, pollarded or "grazed" and constitute important sources of food, fodder, firewood, medicines and flowers, as well as being of considerable ecological importance. The rest of the urban agroforestry landscape includes the rare botanical garden or urban forest reserve, public parks and institutionalized tree planting throughout cities.

It must be stressed, however, that despite the current importance of agroforestry on undeveloped urban and pert-urban land, it is these areas, because of insecure tenure and undefined ownership, that are most severely affected by wanton deforestation for fuelwood gathering and agricultural clearing - a classic case of Garret Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" (1968).

Cultivation and/or protection of trees and non-tree plants; on idle or undeveloped urban and peri-urban land is wide-spread and constitutes an important source of food and tree products.

Animal husbandry and urban agrosilvipastoralism Small-scale animal husbandry, although playing a minor role compared with food production, is also an important activity. In Port Moresby, animal keeping was minimal, with 11 out of 79 households keeping pigs, chickens or ducks and few households having tethered cows and goats. There were no pigs kept in Suva. In Tonga over half of all sample households kept tethered or penned pigs, and almost two-thirds kept chickens or ducks. In most cases, poultry were penned or tethered at night and allowed to forage during the day, and pigs and other larger animals were generally tethered or penned at all times. In Kiribati and Nauru, pigs and chickens are also kept on home allotments.

In terms of agrosilvipastoralism within the wider context of urban areas, it must be stressed that the livestock depend on trees to a great extent for shade, sustenance and tethering. Apart from kitchen waste, the main feed for pigs and chickens in most areas is coconut. In Tonga, goats and pigs are commonly fed the leaves of Leucaena leucocephala, Pisonia grandis and Erythrina variegata, while "living edible pens" for poultry and pigs are made of these same species, plus others such as Hibiscus tiliaceus, and Polyscias spp., all of which are easily pruned or pollarded to provide fodder. On the negative side, grazing animals and pigs seem to accelerate deforestation in urban areas through the consumption or destruction of tree seedlings and saplings. Once established, however, trees and animals seem to coexist well, except where goats eat the foliage and bark of trees.


Despite the considerable importance of urban agroforestry in the Pacific islands, there are a number of problems. Unfavourable climate, poor soils, the cost and availability of land and water, insufficient time and labour, pest damage, theft and lack of government assistance are the problems most commonly mentioned.

Very little can be done about a dry climate, except for the additional use of water. There are numerous soil problems - the very poorly developed rocky and stony lithosols of Port Moresby, the very shallow soils which overlay a marl substrate in Suva, the hydromorphic soils in low-lying areas, the notoriously infertile calcimorphic soils of Kiribati, and the soils which have been exhausted because of continual cropping on small urban plots. The only answer is to use fertilizers, animal manures, mulch and composts or to adopt other soil conservation measures. Both water shortage and poor soils, however, often make trees a more attractive proposition than short-term ground crops, which usually require more water and higher soil fertility.

Insufficient land area and insecurity of tenure were problems in most areas, and constitute major disincentives to urban agroforestry and the planting and protection of trees and other long-term crops. Other problems included diseases, insects, birds, rats, dogs, mongooses and noxious weeds; theft and premature harvest of produce, especially of banana bunches and tree fruit, such as mangos; insufficient time for planting and maintenance; high costs of poultry feed and fertilizer; predation of firewood and deforestation of undeveloped urban and pert-urban lands where most low-income families still depend on firewood to cook their meals (Thaman and Ba, 1979); boundary problems with respect to ownership of crops; unfavourable response to gardening or livestock rearing by neighbours and government apathy.

Importance of urban agroforestry

The importance of urban agroforestry and its implications for planning are not clearly understood by most planners and policy-makers. The lack of quantitative data on its nature, extent, and cultural and ecological importance is a major problem. However, increasing interest in the subject has recently been shown by some city planners and administrators.

The Committee on Food Supplies of the Solomon Islands (1974), for example, conducted studies of food production in Honiara and stressed the need to increase production per head in both rural and urban areas, and Fitzroy (1981) pointed out the correlation between vitamin deficiency in "urbanized" people without garden plots in Honiara. Further studies stressing the importance of urban home gardens in the Pacific have been conducted since the mid-1970s (Basha et al., 1974; Ali, 1976; Thaman, 1977a and b, 1982b, 1984b, 1985b; Harris, 1977; Fleckenstein, 1978; Kesavan, 1979; Vasey, 1985). There is also a study of the importance of home food production to smallholder cane farmers in rural Fiji, with particular emphasis on the inventory of trees used for shade, food, firewood, fodder, medicines and religious purposes (All, 1986).

There have been campaigns encouraging the cultivation of food crops in Port Moresby. In Fiji, the National Food and Nutrition Committee (NFNC) and The Fiji Times, through its "Feed Fiji First" campaign, have placed major emphasis on home food production and have sponsored competitions in housing estates, schools and agricultural resettlement schemes.

Similar interest in urban agroforestry has recently been shown in Vanuatu, Tonga, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, where urban food dependency and increasing incidences of nutritional disorders have become serious. These countries, along with Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Western Samoa are now part of a UNICEF-sponsored "Pacific Island Regional Family Food Production and Nutrition Project". Finally, a major assessable component of a course on "Agriculture, Food and Nutrition in the Developing World" at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, a regional university serving 11 member countries, is the development and maintenance of mixed home gardens. Tonga and Fiji have both promoted tree planting in towns as integral parts of their World Environment Week and Arbour Day programmes, respectively.

Potential and planning implications The potential for and implications of planning decisions affecting urban agroforestry are considerable, and must be viewed holistically. Rather than basing planning decisions on purely economic and political criteria, other factors such as the nutritional, medical, technical, social, aesthetic, spiritual and ecological importance of urban agroforestry must be given greater consideration.

Nutritional importance Nutritional deterioration, as a result of a shift from the consumption of nutritious traditional foodstuffs to imported foods of inferior nutritional quality, is a serious problem in Pacific island urban areas (Coyne et al., 1984; Thaman, 1982a, 1983, 1984a, 1985a). However, studies in Hawaii (Yang, 1976) indicate that with the correct selection of vegetable crops on a 42-m2 plot (4.6 x 9.1 m), a family of five can produce over 100 percent of its vitamin A and C requirements, over 50 percent of its iron requirement and 18 percent of its protein, and save US$1-20 per day in food costs. Kesavan (1979) similarly suggests that an area of 150 m2 would supply adequate fresh vegetables for a family of two adults and two children in Papua New Guinea, but Fleckenstein (1978) argues that to provide all food for a medium-sized household would require 3100 m2. "It is unreasonable", he writes, "to expect dooryard gardens to provide all energy or protein requirements... surely dooryard gardens could grow the foods which provide vitamins and minerals which protect the body against various diseases", and which "are needed in much smaller amounts". Fitzroy (1981) supports this view with his findings in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, that people without gardens had lower intakes of iron and vitamins A and C.

In areas of Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia, where little land exists for home gardening, there are serious micronutrient deficiencies. Most recently, widespread night blindness was detected among children in urban Tarawa, and seemed to be related to the low intakes of papaya, pandanus, bread-fruit and fish (traditional sources of vitamin A) rather than to any injury (Pargeter et al., 1984). Recent campaigns in Kiribati to promote home gardening and the consumption of local or traditional foods and of iron- and pro-vitamin A-rich, rarely consumed leafy greens from trees such as te non (Morinda citrifolia), te buka (Pisonia grandis) and te toara (Polyscias spp.) have reportedly led to a decrease in anaemia and vitamin A deficiency.

It is important to stress that fruits such as mango, guava, papaya, soursop, avocado, pandanus, coconut and bread-fruit are very good sources of fibre, vitamins C, A and 8-complex, and other micronutrients, many of which are lacking in highly refined urban diets (Miller et al., 1965). Similarly, the leaves of trees such as the horseradish tree (Moringa oleifera), curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) and the tree-like hibiscus spinach (Abelmoschus manihot) are excellent vegetable sources of iron, vitamins C and A, plant protein, dietary fibre and other micronutrients (Omen and Grubben, 1978).

Technical importance Given access to land, urban agroforestry is technically within the means of even the poorest families. It depends on inexpensive and readily available time-tested local technologies, plants, planting materials, and, cultural practices rather than on unfamiliar, often expensive and ecologically suspect imported technologies such as hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized equipment, fossil fuels and imported foods and recipes. Inexpensive and often locally produced hand-tools are the only implements required. Kitchen waste, animal manure, ash, compost, mechanical pest control and mixed cropping are used instead of imported inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.

Finally, urban agroforestry systems are garden-to-kitchen sources of fresh, nutritious, and pesticide-residue-free food and fodder, as well as of medicines, perfumes, fuelwood and many other products. This eliminates the need for costly transportation, processing, storage and refrigeration.

Economic importance Although there are few economic data on urban agroforestry, its importance seems to be great indeed, as the cash incomes of urban dwellers in the Pacific, especially of unskilled workers and recent immigrants, are very low. In Papua New Guinea in 1971, for example, 80 percent of all families could not afford rentals of the cheapest housing (Papua New Guinea Housing Commission, 1975); in Suva, many families in government housing would not have been able to pay their rents if it were not for the estimated US$8-12 per family per week they saved by growing their own taro, cassava, tree crops and other foods, and collecting firewood on idle urban lands (All, 1976). In short, the "real incomes" of urban gardeners are increased considerably by agroforestry activities.

Considerable economic benefit is also realized through the cultivation of non-food trees such as Pandanus spp. or paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) and of sacred or fragrant flowers, which are important for the production of tourist handicrafts as well as for subsistence production of plaited ware and fine mats, tape cloth, body oils, perfumes and deodorants.

The economic importance of urban food production seems to be even more crucial in times of inflation when it provides insurance against increasing food prices, especially to families who are living near the subsistence level. In fact, the Committee on Food Supplies (1974) in the Solomon Islands stated: "We believe that non-cash or so-called subsistence incomes are more important in towns, and cash incomes more important in rural areas than has been generally understood."

Social benefits The social benefits of urban agroforestry are manifold. Important benefits include: the maintenance of social ties through the distribution of garden produce and provision of food for feasts; the recreational and physical exercise value; and the educational importance to urban dwellers and their children, who often have limited knowledge or appreciation of agriculture and its culturally important plants.

The spiritual importance of urban agroforestry is exemplified by the great religious significance that the Hindu community of Fiji attaches to trees such as the coconut, tamarind, mango and neem (Azadirachta indica), which are common in home gardens in both urban and rural areas. Moreover, religious shrines, known as sthan, are often found in gardens, with the garden itself having considerable sacred value. Similarly, Melanesian societies are renowned for garden ritual, and it can be assumed that there is widespread magico-religious significance attached to urban agroforestry and gardening in Melanesian towns. Sacred plants are also common throughout the rest of the Pacific, as shown in the example of the over 35 species of sacred plants ('akau kakala) found in urban home gardens in Tonga.

Finally, if community urban agroforestry were encouraged, other social benefits might be realized, such as providing a social centre of activity, food for the landless, experimental environmental education opportunities or a meeting ground for improving community spirit and lessening alienation among different social, ethnic or racial groups.

Few of the "educated" urban elite truly understand the nature and critical developmental importance of tree planting, let alone the names of the trees that have nurtured their people for generations.

Ecological benefits The ecological importance of urban agroforestry is obvious. Trees serve as windbreaks, provide shade and air-freshening oxygen, recycle soil nutrients, prevent soil erosion, and provide food and habitats for beneficial wild and domesticated animals. The remarkable plant diversity encountered in home gardens provides a basis for stability and protection against natural disasters and pest infestations. As Soemarwoto et al. argue (1985), the home garden is "an integrated agro-ecosystem in which solar energy is channelled through the plants to animals and man, and matter is cycled and recycled. This cycling and recycling process, together with the layered plant cover protects the soil of the home garden from exhaustion, leaching, and soil erosion."


In the light of what seem to be very considerable nutritional, technological, social and ecological advantages of urban agroforestry, it is argued that, despite some problems, its systematic promotion could be one of the most direct means of promoting meaningful and sustainable nutritional, economic, cultural and ecological development.

To promote urban agroforestry, governments, non-government agencies and local village or community organizations should actively encourage diversified cropping and tree planting as a priority. Agricultural extension services could be expanded or refocused to provide technical advice on small-scale arboriculture in urban areas, rather than the predominant concentration on large-scale and/or commercial cropping, forestry and livestock enterprises, primarily in rural areas.

Pilot projects to identify optimum cropping systems could be conducted at agricultural stations and model gardens established by appropriate institutions or groups, e.g. schools and universities, city councils, housing commissions, and agricultural and forestry departments. Research should also be conducted to determine the true nutritional, technological, economic, social and ecological importance (and possible drawbacks) of urban agroforestry and mixed home gardening. These findings must also be stressed through the media.

Governments could pass laws which legitimize and encourage, rather than discourage, tree planting and protection and the cultivation of crops on idle and undeveloped land within urban and rural areas. This might minimize theft from home gardens, where this is a problem.

Housing commissions and planning agencies could consider the inclusion of land for agroforestry activities in all housing projects. Community gardens or urban garden reserves could be established in high-density, multi-unit housing areas where people have no access to cultivable land. Institutions, such as prisons, hospitals, homes for the aged, boarding schools, labour housing and military and police barracks, could establish garden reserves and programmes of mixed gardening in which tree planting is given priority. Factory or employee gardens and tree planting should be encouraged by large corporations, government departments and even small businesses.

Homes, communities, schools, hospitals and mother-child health-care clinics should all establish herbal medical gardens or collections to preserve important medicinal and other sacred or culturally important plants (many of which are trees) as well as herbal medical knowledge. All schools, from the primary through the tertiary level, should be required to establish orchards and mixed gardening reserves/outdoor teaching laboratories, which should include long-term tree and perennial crops as well as short-term crops.

Recreation, youth, and sports ministries or departments should seriously consider encouraging tree planting and mixed gardening as integral to their programmes, especially for those not actively involved in competitive sports; and student and community service groups might consider agroforestry programmes to provide food, fuel and other products to hospitals and other needy groups.

A concerted attempt must be made to encourage home gardeners to plant or replant trees, especially fruit and fuelwood trees. The younger generation seems to have neglected the wisdom of the past, and continues to depend on senile trees of low productivity, often planted by their parents or grandparents. Such plantings could, where land area permits, take the form of useful plants, fruit-trees, fodder plants and nurse plants for climbing food plants, especially along roadsides, paths, and property lines, all in a manner to maximize productivity.

Networks should be established for the multiplication and distribution of planting materials suitable for different environmental conditions. This would be especially critical for underutilized but highly productive crops and trees such as Musa spp., coconut, bread-fruit, pandanus, avocados, Citrus spp., Annona spp., Moringa oleifera, various vegetatively produced leafy greens, legumes and climbing cucurbits, medicinal plants, fast-growing fuelwood species and endangered sacred plants.

There are undoubtedly other recommendations which could be added to the list. Nevertheless, if Pacific island governments, planners, policy-makers and community leaders were to attempt to implement all of these recommendations systematically, the short- and long-term nutritional, technological, economic, social and ecological benefits would probably be greater than any of the large-scale agricultural, industrial, fisheries or tourism schemes now championed by the Pacific island managerial élite.

The systematic promotion of urban agroforestry would seem to satisfy all of the commonly held developmental goals: increased production, economic growth, job creation, income generation and redistribution, basic-needs satisfaction, maximization of self-sufficiency, social accounting, youth development, care for the aged, equality of women, appropriate technology, diversification, decentralization, cultural preservation, "health for all by the year 2000" and, in most cases, even environmental protection. Moreover, it would seem that there could be few, if any, better single means of simultaneously pursuing almost all these goals, for almost all people in a society, than the promotion and expansion of agroforestry, both urban and rural.

Agroforestry has always been central to Pacific island life, and is now an integral part of Pacific island urban life. It must be seen as the "roots" of sustained-yield Pacific island development. It must be systematically fostered and intensified if Pacific island nations are to deal effectively with their rapidly increasing populations, and with serious problems of increasing malnutrition and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, with increasing financial, technological, and food and fuel dependency on overseas countries, and with an increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The choice may in fact be between underdevelopment and abject poverty in the seemingly paradisiacal Pacific islands, or a firm commitment to "urban" agroforestry and tree planting, both separately and as part of all development projects.


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