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This preliminary study raises a number of key issues to be addressed in developing urban forestry in the Third World. First, a survey of the literature on urban forestry in developing countries shows that information is both limited and scattered. There is clearly a need 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 information dissemination and exchange. These issues, and the possible role of development assistance agencies are discussed briefly below.


Incorporating forestry into city planning and taking a comprehensive approach to the management of urban forest resources are perhaps the most critical, yet among the most difficult steps to be taken. Achieving coordinated planning, both within the forestry sector and between forestry and other sectors, is an important challenge to be met. Adequate collaboration between government entities must be secured; planning for urban forestry should be integrated with planning in the energy, water supply, urban infrastructure, waste disposal and other municipal services, food and agriculture, and transportation sectors.

Urban forestry plans should seek the involvement of various public, private, academic and community entities as well as concerned and informed individuals. Only in this way can it be ensured that the plans are realistic and adequately balance the needs of those in the entire community. Means of involving a range of people in planning and incorporating their views adequately will have to be devised, as will ways of balancing conflicting interests. Documentation of successful cases in which this has been done would be useful for those cities developing new programmes.

Planners must not only take into consideration what is happening in and immediately around the city itself, but must be aware of the changes occurring in the rural areas as a result of urbanization and the impact these will have on urban forestry programmes. These might include deforestation caused by responses to urban markets for wood products; increased land prices resulting in land use changes; and changes in labour availability affecting land and resource use. Analyses of the dynamics between the urban and rural areas, both in socio-economic and environmental terms, will improve planning. A good understanding is needed of the phenomenon of rural-urban migration -- who is moving, their links to the rural areas, where they settle and what resources they have access to. This will help predict what forest/tree related goods and services the new and the longer-established residents need and the impact they may have on forest and tree resources. Without a clear understanding of changes occurring on the urban-rural continuum, it is difficult to be able to assess the soundness of both urban and rural forestry strategies.

Integrating forestry into overall urban planning obviously will be easier in cities with strong planning capabilities. This is not to say that urban forestry should not or cannot be attempted in cities where such capabilities are not in place. In these cases, those who are planning urban forestry activities must be aware of potential social, environmental and economic repercussions of their actions. Guidelines for developing urban forestry programmes, which point out key considerations and the potential for complementarity or conflict between forestry and other sectors would be helpful.

Ensuring local participation in implementing urban forestry programmes

In most countries, urban forestry programmes cannot and should not be carried out solely by the public sector. Government should work with other entities in promoting and executing urban forestry activities. Partnerships must be developed with community groups, non-governmental organizations, research and academic institutions, and the private sector. There are scattered examples of involvement of non-governmental organizations, both national and international, in urban forestry activities in developing countries. There is much potential for involving the private sector, including national business as well as multinational corporations with operations in developing countries. Universities, arboreta and botanical gardens are already playing an important role in some places by providing advice and carrying out research related to urban forestry. It is important that municipal entities charged with urban forestry draw fully on the capabilities and strengths of these various actors.

Programmes involving poor urban dwellers may be much more difficult to develop. The greater the emphasis on urban forestry for production of wood and non-wood products, however, the greater is the potential and the need for active participation of local people in implementation. It is essential that the programmes developed will have a net beneficial effect on the people involved and that they have the means (e.g, labour availability) for involvement. Where rural poor are involved in planting and management of trees for production, the degree and nature of their involvement will depend upon a number of factors including: availability and access to land and to forest/tree resources; the role trees and tree products do or could play in the household economy; availability of labour and the distribution of work within the household by gender and age; cultural factors (e.g, religious beliefs, species preferences) which influence what trees are planted and protected in an urban environment; and the particular zone of the city in which planting will be carried out. Much more is still to be understood about how these factors affect people's participation.

Another situation in which active involvement is absolutely essential is that in which watershed management is a critical issue, but where land scarcity results in new urban recruits settling on erodible hillsides. Solutions which both adequately protect the land and water resources and accommodate the needs of these people must be sought.

Ensuring meaningful community involvement in urban forestry initiatives will not always be easy. Whereas in many developed countries “community” can be synonymous with “neighbourhood”, this is often not the case in cities undergoing rapid population growth and frequent movement of dwellers. In such cities, a neighbourhood may be made up of people of different ethnic origins, religions and even languages. Social heterogeneity is not only a characteristic of new neighbourhoods with recent immigrants to the urban areas, but may also be a feature of the longer established residential areas, where poor people live “invisibly” among the wealthier and are often overlooked in planning. A lack of social cohesion of people located in a spacial unit, makes participatory programmes more difficult to carry out.

Participatory approaches, now commonly being used in forestry projects in rural areas of developing countries, could well be adapted for use in urban areas. These methods ensure that the people themselves are involved in planning, managing and monitoring the progress of activities.

Forestry production potential

Most government-sponsored urban forestry activities in developing countries have concentrated on environmental services (including water supply, air quality, modification of micro-climate) and amenity; relatively little attention has been paid to the role of forestry in addressing immediate needs of the urban poor, including access to food and fuelwood. Various strategies for meeting these needs will range from promoting production within the greater urban area, to developing reliable supplies in the rural areas and ensuring adequate delivery and marketing mechanisms, to promoting alternative fuels as a replacement for fuelwood.

The extent to which production within the greater urban area can and should fulfil needs will obviously vary from city to city. In some cities there is a real, immediate need and the potential for at least some production of wood and non-wood tree products. In these places, the issue is how to develop the optimal strategies and means of organizing production. In other cities, it can be argued that the major function of trees is to make the urban environment more liveable. Indeed, some cities, such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, have used tree planting and urban beautification to improve foreign investment, thus stimulating jobs and improving the overall economic level of the city; urban poverty has been reduced as a result. Each city must find the appropriate place along the spectrum.

Technical basis for forestry

Much of the technical information on urban forestry and arboriculture originates from temperate, developed countries. Far less is known about tropical arboriculture, ornamental tropical species, adjusting planting and management practices to conform to the urban environment. In addition, comparatively little attention has been paid to exploring the potential of using urban and peri-urban tree resources for productive purposes and developing management strategies and methodologies accordingly. A concerted effort in documenting existing knowledge and launching new research is called for.

Institutional issues

A number of institutional issues must be addressed in developing urban forestry programmes. These issues relate to the capabilities and roles of municipal and national governmental agencies involved in urban forestry; encouraging the involvement of other potentially important partners; the legal basis for urban tree and forest management; and technical know-how related to urban forestry.

Mayors, assisted by various municipal officials, have been instrumental in the launching of active urban forestry programmes in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and some Latin American and African countries. Securing the strong commitment of political leaders is an important ingredient of successful programmes. Without this, the allocation of sufficient funds and human resources is problematic. More effort is needed to bring the issue of urban forestry to government leaders to illustrate potential contributions of the forestry sector to the wellbeing of urban dwellers and the urban environment.

Municipal services must be well developed to cope with proper management of street trees and trees on public lands. In many cities of the developing world, trees are poorly tended and may become public hazards. Adequate services are needed to tend trees properly, clear roads and storm drains of tree debris, and dispose of tree waste. The commitment to tree planting must be matched with the financial and human means of providing such services on a sustainable basis.

The legal basis (comprehensiveness and enforcement of laws) for the protection and use of trees in urban areas varies considerably by country. In some countries (e.g, Brazil, India and Kenya) legislation related to protection of urban trees is quite comprehensive, in many others it is weak. More attention should be paid to developing appropriate legal frameworks for urban forestry.

The role of international organizations

Urban forestry has played only a minor role in the programmes of bilateral and multilateral development agencies to date. Such agencies can be instrumental in providing support for applied research on tropical arboriculture and urban forestry, contributing to the understanding of the role and potential of urban forestry, providing improved access to information, strengthening institutional capabilities in planning and execution of urban forestry initiatives, and providing financial and technical assistance to urban forestry programmes. International development agencies, which have focused on issues of rural poverty, should be aware that large numbers of rural poor are becoming the urban poor, and as that happens, the issues of energy supply, food security and environmental degradation that the donors have traditionally addressed in the rural areas, merit more attention in the urban areas. A better understanding is needed of the social and environmental interactions between the urban and rural areas, and what is happening to the land in the urban-rural interface. Much can be done, but it calls for coordinated efforts between developing and developed countries, and including research and academic entities, the public and private sectors, voluntary and community groups and individual citizens.

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