Friday August 26 2011

She became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. What stands out most, however, is the impact of her community-based tree-planting initiative.

Prof Maathai gained global attention in 1998, when former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi backed the development of a luxury housing project that would cut down hundreds of acres of Nairobi’s Karura Forest. She was arrested and imprisoned numerous times during Moi’s regime because of her protests against deforestation.

With her organisation, the Green Belt Movement, Prof Maathai has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees countrywide since 1977. The movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network that initiated similar tree planting initiatives in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and others.

Prof Maathai was listed sixth in the Environment Agency (UK) peer review of the world’s Top 100 Eco-Heroes.