Conflicting priorities, conflicting scales: urban forestry in Accra between household (re)production and global sustainability

Hosek, Lyn-Kristin (2022). Conflicting priorities, conflicting scales: urban forestry in Accra between household (re)production and global sustainability. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Accra Metropolitan Assembly intends to plant 100,000 trees to mitigate the effects of global climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency investigates the durability of tree-shaded road surfaces to alleviate the national budget. John Yetsowodo, an Accra resident, is selling coconuts to put cash in his pocket.This thesis is about both the blessing and curse of multi-functional urban trees that ameliorate urban living conditions in Accra,but also cause conflict over management priorities and actual decision-making. When stakeholder aims diverge, decision-makingpower becomes decisive. Such power produces urban forests that are neither random nor neutral, and tree species and planting site choices which more often reflect national budgetary and global sustainability concerns, than a preoccupation with the lives and livelihoods of city inhabitants. Yet, incorporating public participation in urban forest interventions, especially by private land and tree owners, facilitates more effective, better integrated and more equitable city-wide planning processes and management outcomes. As part of a mixed methods research design, I combined tree inventories, archival research, stakeholder interviews, a sample household survey and selected household case study ‘biographies’ (Feb. 2016–Aug. 2017) to analyse Accra’s urban forest changes over time and across space. I further examine current urban forestry management systems and assess planned and proposed future interventions. Centring residents’ use strategies and priorities within an emancipatory approach, the thesis demonstrates how a focus on individual and household level benefits of urban trees can contribute often absent but potentially indispensable knowledges to urban forest planning and management.

In particular, I outline the lasting imprints on Accra’s urban forest left by historical events and processes. As such outcomes cannot be changed without understanding the factors which contribute to their existence in the first place, I also analyse the effects of previous land use or city planning decisions as part of my scrutiny of current and proposed interventions for their likelysocio-environmental impacts. While numerous public stakeholders plan and manage (parts of) Accra’s forest, their effectiveness is impeded by a lack of resources and written documentation for assigning tasks and responsibilities in clear and unequivocal ways. Additionally, selected key government stakeholders continue to focus on educating and sensitising the public, resting on the misguided belief that Accra’s residents are neither aware of, nor particularly interested in, the trees’ benefits. However, based on my household survey and case study, I refute this assumption as respondents undoubtedly understand and appreciate the city trees’ multiple functions. At the individual and household level, tree products are consumed for subsistence and sold for cash. These products, when gifted or exchanged, also create and reinforce social and cultural capital, while tree shade provides a pleasant outdoor environment for enacting the interactions in question.

My research thus furthers our understanding of how natural vegetation resources in cities contribute to livelihoods, highlighting how diversifying management objectives can benefit the wider community, especially those living in arduous conditions. Nonetheless, current urban tree-related events in Accra continue to prioritise higher scale benefits, exacerbating existing injustices regarding available and accessible trees and their benefits, with various government stakeholders failing to utilise urban forestry’s potential to promote secure livelihoods, especially for marginalised and disadvantaged city residents.

In sum, I contribute to a people-centred, emancipatory and explicitly political reading of urban forestry, which challenges simplistic explanations that assign blame to seemingly disinterested and ignorant city residents for low and/or diminishing tree cover. In place of the latter narrative, I emphasise the pervasive structural mechanisms that affect how urban forests are configured and consider possibilities for incorporating meaningful popular participation in redressing the structural imbalances implied.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Royal Geographical Society with IBG
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)


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