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Prof-Wangari-Maathai
Prof. Wangari Maathai in her home country, Kenya.

Nobel winner Wangari Maathai namesake forestry award deadline looms

By Julie Mollins

CIFOR — Kenyan-born Wangari Maathai dedicated the better part of her life to environmental conservation, planting trees and promoting equal rights for women — efforts that won her a Nobel Peace Prize “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”.

Not only was Maathai the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, but she was also the first woman scholar from East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate — in biology — and the first woman professor in Kenya.

The grassroots “Green Belt Movement” Maathai started in 1977 aimed to encourage women to work together to help stop deforestation, which threatened subsistence agriculture. Its popularity led to the planting of more than 30 million trees throughout Africa.

The movement was started to help Kenyan women who were facing a myriad of environmental challenges: water supplies were drying up; food supplies were less secure; and they had to walk further to get firewood for fuel and fencing.  Maathai realized that in addition to poverty, environmental degradation, deforestation, and food insecurity, women faced disempowerment and disenfranchisement.

Maathai’s impact to institute change was far reaching. Women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which reports that the percentage of women involved in agricultural labor is about 20 percent throughout Latin America and 50 percent in parts of Africa and Asia.

FORESTRY PRIZE

Maathai’s work in the forestry sector inspired a $20,000 award first launched in 2012 by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), won by Narayan Kaji Shrestha for his contribution to Nepal’s community forestry movement — the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal.

Over a 30-year period, Shrestha’s work encouraging women and villagers to participate in forest management led to a significant restoration of forest resources in Nepal, according to the CPF, which said that community forestry user groups now protect more than 25 percent of the country’s forests.

The deadline to nominate a candidate for the 2014 Wangari Maathai Award in recognition of contributions to preserve, restore and sustainably manage forests and to raise awareness of the key role forests play in supporting local communities, rural livelihoods, women and the environment is on July 18.

The 2014 winner will be awarded $20,000.

For more information please visit: http://www.cpfweb.org/77034/en/