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Step up tree planting to restore natural beauty of urban areas

OPINION
By Caroline Kerichu | June 4th 2021
Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana while planting a tree at Wote PLWDs school [Courtesy]

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful” – Alice Walker.

Cities are a great hub for commerce, social development, science, ideas, culture, and productivity, offering resident’s diverse lifestyles, education, and opportunities for employment. However, according to a 2020 report by the UN-Habitat, the global population in urban areas is projected to increase threefold by 2030. 

According to the UN data in 2050, 64 and 84 per cent of developing and developed countries respectively, will be urbanised. The exponential increase in urban population is threatening the potential and well-being of communities due to escalating risks, such as increased pollution levels to water, air, and soil systems, environmental degradation, and fragmentation of habitats. Moreover, the unprecedented urban growth is taking place in areas mostly identified as biodiversity hotspots.

This destruction and degradation have led to a reduction in urban biodiversity that is vital in enhancing ecological services and supporting human well-being. In Nairobi, for instance, infrastructural and development projects like the Standard Gauge Railway and the Konza City have led to the shrinking of the Nairobi National Park. In Kakamega, massive deforestation is occurring as an indicator of urbanisation.

Nevertheless, there is growing emphasis on the need to restore the remnant natural habitats within urban areas in order to maximise the ecosystem services they offer. These include regulating, provisioning, spiritual and cultural functions.

City dwellers can play a significant role in conserving biodiversity, including the threatened and endangered flora and fauna. Putting in place education and awareness, the right policies related to non-motorised transport, conservation, and relevant urban planning strategies will dictate how people interact and understand biodiversity. 

The integration of trees into management and urban planning can aid in transforming cities into more resilient, healthy, sustainable, and conducive places to dwell in. Well-established and maintained trees are easy to notice and the best means for enhancing a well-built element. Trees are key biological resources that people easily identify with.

As Esty poetically puts it, “Every tree is sure that its purpose in life is to be a tree, without a doubt, it knows its worth as its roots delve deep into the earth, the branches stretching strong and proud, pointing at the passing clouds, and all the nature loves trees”. Trees are indeed Mother Nature’s masterpieces, a symbol of freedom and unity.

Trees are one of the most aesthetic and memorable aspects of a compound or a roadside. They are a powerful tool that can be used to tackle some urban challenges and enhance the well-being of city dwellers. Trees can be viewed as an amazing technology that provides abundant benefits that support both the natural and built environment.

They are essential in improving the urban air quality by removal of pollutants, they are vital in shading roads and buildings, they also regulate the city microclimate. A variety of tree species such as fruit trees are a source of food and other edible products and medicine, contributing to the government development pillars on urban food security, nutrition, and universal healthcare.

Restoration of urban ecosystems is critical and requires purposive sensitisation and commitment. Covid-19 is a timely reminder that a healthy natural ecosystem is a risk-reducing infrastructure and a critical urban asset, especially in times of crises. Recognising the benefits and services provided by trees to city dwellers is critical as the world commemorates World Environment Day on June 5, 2021.

Urban tree planting and growing should therefore be viewed as an integral part of the expansive forest landscape restoration, whereby trees should be raised, managed, and protected to fulfil their intended purpose. Planting suitable tree species and applying appropriate management that is scientifically proven, is essential in making urban cities valuable habitats for biodiversity. The choice of tree species to plant in your compound, along the roadside or urban green spaces are fundamental in the mosaic establishment of a natural environment.

Unfortunately, most people tend to pick tree species without considering if they are appropriate, or about their survival rate in a given environment. Understanding the benefits and value acquired from the tree species is critical when selecting. It is also critical to understand the time to plant your trees, as they require sufficient moisture to survive. The knowledge of indigenous and native tree species is also critical in understanding their interaction with other biodiversity, impact on infrastructure, and local suitability.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has embarked on campaigning towards increasing the country’s tree cover by over 10 per cent as enshrined in the Constitution. This entails stressing that everyone is held accountable and is part of the solution towards re-greening and restoring Mother Nature. A call for strategic and targeted actions geared towards protecting and revitalising existing urban green places and establishing new ones at all levels is critical.

Additionally, embracing innovative partnerships, enhancing and building the capacity and competency on urban green and natural places is significant. Heightening the public awareness and purposive sensitisation on the importance of trees and forests, and how to raise them, as well as strengthening institutional capacities on conserving urban green spaces is crucial. 

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