Area of work:
“Promoting ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development”
Professor Maathai recognises that a consequence of industrialisation has been the disconnection of communities from their natural environments. For less industrialised societies, the natural way of life is entwined in their culture, and thus the preservation of the natural environment is a way of living. For those communities that have embraced industrialisation, poor natural resource management often leads to conflict. Environmental protection is seen by Maathai as a way of promoting and securing peace.
Key achievement in 2004 – Breaking the Cycle:
In 1976 Professor Maathai introduced the idea of paying groups of women to plant trees to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.
Her desire was to produce sustainable wood for fuel use as well as combating soil erosion, deforestation and desertification. This developed into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus was the planting of trees. Through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting 25 million trees on their farms, schools and church compounds and other community spaces. Not only does the tree planting enhance biodiversity and enrich the fertility of soil, but it brings communities together and plays a part in mitigating climate change.
Like all great leaders, Professor Maathai’s idea has spread. In 1986 the Movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network which has exposed many other individuals from other African counties to the approach. Some of these individuals have established similar tree planting initiatives in their own countries or they use some of the Green Belt Movement methods to improve their efforts. So far, countries to have successfully launched such initiatives in Africa include Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. The Green Belt Movement has received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, making Wangari Maathai the first African female, and sixth African to win the prize award.
Professor Wangari has contributed to breaking the cycle in the following areas:
Forestation: Over 25 million tress have been planted
Food security: All members of the movement are trained in methods of organic farming, intensive land management and the values of indigenous harvest.
Empowerment: GBM network members and communities become empowered to mobilize the public, local government officials and church leaders, to participate in activities such as constructing river dams, building terraces on farms, transporting tree seedlings and planting them.
Employment: Many jobs have been created through the hiring of field staff and secretariat staff.
Skills and income: Over 30,000 women who form the bulk of the GBM constituency continue to receive skills on silviculture, post-harvest food processing, bee keeping and other income generating activities. In addition GBM groups receive financial compensation for every tree seedling that survives on public land. This income is used to supplement family incomes.
Professor Wangari cites environmental and governance issues as “still needing a lot of work in this continent.” She sees herself as a global spokesperson for Africa on the issues. Following Nobel Prize success, Professor Wangari also expects to take a leadership role in the Sudan/Darfur crisis, as well as the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
On the matter of HIV/Aids, she suggests that the most important thing has to be the education of Africans about the disease, so that they address it from a point of information, rather than from a point of ignorance and fear.
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© Article 13 - 2005