Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai is
the first woman to:
- Earn a doctorate on record
in Central or Eastern Africa;
- Head a university department
in Kenya; and
- Win the Nobel Prize in Peace
for environmental work.
She was born in the small village
of Ihithe located in the central province of Kenya, Africa in
1940. She earned a degree in biology from Mount St. Scholastica
College in Kansas and a master's degree at the University of
Pittsburgh. Professor Maathai pursued doctoral studies in Germany
and the University of Nairobi, earning a doctorate in 1971.
- Dr. Maathai is internationally
recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy,
human rights, and environmental conservation. She
has also served on the commission for Global Governance and the
Commission on the Future.
- A recipient of numerous awards,
Dr. Maathai's most prestigious award is the 2004 Nobel Peace
Prize. She was nominated by Earth Times as one of
100 persons in the world that has made a difference in the environmental
- In 2005, she was honored by
Time Magazine as one of 100 most influential people in
the world, and by Forbes Magazine as one of 100 most powerful
women in the world.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate
and founder of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya, October 2004.
Photo by Mia MacDonald
don't quite realize that not everybody's clapping when we're
- Dr. Maathai
From December 2002-2007, Dr.
Maathai was elected to Kenya's Parliament with an overwhelming
98 percent of the vote. She also served as an assistant minister
for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya's Ninth Parliament.
TRANSFORMATIVE IDEA: COMMUNITY-BASED
- Problems faced by Kenya's
rural women provided the inspiration for community-based tree
planting that Dr. Maathai first introduced in Kenya. Her main
focus was poverty reduction and environmental conservation
through tree planting.
- In the 1970s, she launched
the Kenya's Green Belt Movement (GBM) after starting with a small
tree nursery in her back yard. Today, the GBM is a grassroots
tree planting organization that is run largely by women.
THE GREEN BELT MOVEMENT
The GBM is one of the most
prominent women's civil society organizations in Kenya that advocates
for human rights, supports good governance, and peaceful democratic
change through protection of the environment.
- GBM was established in 1977
as a grassroots tree planting program to address the challenges
of deforestation, soil erosion, and lack of water that grew into
a vehicle for empowering women. The act of planting a tree is
helping women throughout Africa to become stewards of the natural
- The Green Belt Movement has
two divisions; Green Belt Movement Kenya and Green Belt Movement
- More than 40 million trees
have been planted since Maathai started the movement in 1977.
Tens of thousands of women have been trained in forestry, food
processing, bee-keeping, and other activities that will help
them to earn an income while conserving their lands and natural
- The movement has motivated
communities in Kenya to prevent further environmental destruction
and replace the part that has been damaged.
Photo by Mary Davidson
"At the time
of my birth, the land around Ihithe was still lush, green and
- Prof. Maathai
"Peace on earth depends
on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands
at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social,
economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She
has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that
embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular.
She thinks globally and acts locally."
- The Norwegian Nobel Committee description of Prof. Maathai
The impetus for the
movement was deforestation in Kenya, a process that has taken
90 percent of the country's forest over the past 50 years. One
of the consequences Maathai saw was that women and girls had
to spend hours every day searching for wood for cooking fuel.
- Washington Post, 2004
TREE PLANTING: GBM IMPACTS
With Kenya's forest covering
less than 2 percent of the country, the GBM saw the need to start
a campaign and promote the planting of indigenous trees in forest
catchment areas, private farms, and public spaces to preserve
local biological diversity. The more than 40 million trees planted
have also helped to reduce the rate of soil erosion and provide
firewood for cooking fires in the country.
To empower communities
worldwide to protect the environment and to promote good governance
and a culture of peace.
TREE PLANTING METHODOLOGY
The Green Belt Movement Kenya
focused on planting trees on farms with women groups as the main
targets. The methodology used by the movement to establish a
tree nursery and plant trees on farms is a 10-step procedure:
- Sensitization and mobilization
seminars are conducted to spread information on the importance
of tree planting.
- Interested persons are assisted
in the formation and registration of groups usually formed around
women's social groups, church groups, farmers, schools, etc.
- Groups are registered and
communication and follow-up channels are formed.
- Group members get seeds provided
by the movement or collected from forests and plant them. When
they begin to grow, the trees are transplanted into individual
containers or plastic bags in anticipation of distributing them.
- Seedlings are only distributed
to groups that have already dug holes to plant them.
- Holes are checked to ascertain
if they are properly dug prior to supplying seedlings (2 ft deep
and wide; manure applied to holes when soil is poor).
- Once holes are approved, seedlings
are supplied and a report made of seedlings distributed monthly.
- Group members should conduct
the first verification of seedling survival at 1 month. This
involved inspecting the trees planted and determining that they
are being well taken care of.
- Conduct a second verification
of the same trees at 3 months. It is also understood that trees
have a good chance of surviving after the first 3 months.
Wangari Maathai planting a
tree at the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, Kenya, to mark the launch
of her autobiography, Unbowed.
Photo By Wanjira Maathai
A report by the United Nations
in 1989 noted that only 9 trees were being replanted in Africa
for every 100 that were cut down, causing serious problems with
deforestation: soil runoff, water pollution, difficulty finding
firewood, lack of animal nutrition, etc.
- Women History
Barbash, F., &
Wax, E. (2004, October 9). Kenyan woman wins Nobel Peace Prize.
Retrieved October 12, 2009
Lewis, J. J. ( 2009). Wangari
Maathai. About.com: Women's History. Retrieved October
12, 2009, from October 12, 2009.
Robinson, S. (2009). Wangari Maathai. Heroes
of the environment. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
Television for the Environment.
(2009). Crossing the divide-part 1.
Earth Report. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
The Green Belt Movement International.
(2009). The green belt movement.
Retrieved October 12, 2009.
The Independent. (2004, October 9). Wangari Maathai: Queen of the greens. People.
Retrieved October 12, 2009.
The photos in this article are available for
use at http://greenbeltmovement.org/gallery.php?s=5
By Edwin Arisi, Graduate Assistant
and Marilyn Simpson-Johnson, LGSW
Extension Family Welfare Specialist