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Planting hope for the future: Kenya's Green Belt Movement

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Planting hope for the future: the Green Belt Movement in Kenya creates  champions for environmental conservation, good governance and peace

The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations. – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai

The Green Belt Movement is a women’s civil society organization based in Kenya that advocates for human rights and supports good governance and peaceful democratic change through environmental protection. Its mission is to empower communities worldwide to protect the environment and to promote good governance and cultures of peace.

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was started in 1977 by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004). GBM Kenya has led a nationwide campaign to conserve local biodiversity, enhance natural beauty and prevent soil erosion. Experts say a forest cover of 10% is required for a country to sustain life naturally; Kenya's forest cover is less than 2%. The campaign promotes planting indigenous trees in forest catchment areas, private farms and public spaces to preserve local biological diversity.

In Phase 1 (1977-1997), GBM Kenya focused on planting trees on farms with women’s groups as the main implementing agency. Each group had a nursery on which it raised tree seedlings which were distributed free of charge to farmers in nearby communities. Group members followed-up to make sure the farmers took care of the trees. The women received 1 shilling for each exotic tree they distributed and 2 shillings for indigenous/fruit trees as a token of appreciation for their work. By 1997, over 20 million trees had been planted and survived, both conserving the environment and improving livelihoods. The trees provided income, food, improved food productivity, building materials, fencing materials, and many other benefits.

This second phase, planting indigenous trees on public lands, follows the same ten-step procedure but the focus changed from private to public lands and this led increased monitoring and protests about abuse of public lands. GBM Kenya is expanding its tree planting work to include the planting of indigenous trees in forest catchment areas and riparian reserves to preserve local biological diversity. In one area, a water-harvesting project has been initiated to support conservation and food security activities, with sand dams being built to capture water during rainy seasons.

What began as a grassroots tree planting program to address the challenges of deforestation, soil erosion and lack of water is now a vehicle for empowering women. The act of planting a tree is helping African women become powerful champions for sustainable management of scarce resources such as water, equitable economic development, good political governance, and ultimately, for peace.

Today, more than 40 million trees have been planted across Africa. The result: soil erosion has been reduced in critical watersheds, thousands of acres of biodiversity-rich indigenous forest have been restored and protected, and hundreds of thousands of women and their families are standing up for their rights and those of their communities and so are living healthier, more productive lives. The goal in the next decade is to plant one billion trees worldwide.

The Green Belt Movement has two divisions: GBM Kenya and GBM International. GBM Kenya focuses on environmental conservation/tree planting; civic and environmental education; advocacy and networking; pan African training workshops; Green Belt Safaris; and Women for Change (capacity building). GBM International is a non-profit umbrella organization for GBM Kenya and has four goals: to strengthen and expand the GBM in Kenya, to share its program with other countries in Africa and beyond, to empower Africans, especially women and girls, and nurture their leadership and entrepreneurial skills; and advocate internationally for the environment, good governance, equity, and cultures of peace.

This story was prepared from materials on the official website of the Green Belt Movement Kenya. Dr. Maathai, GBM Kenya’s founder, served as one of four honorary spokespersons for the UN’s International Year of Deserts and Desertification in 2006.


For other stories about tree-planting activities, see:

Replanting olive trees in Palestine symbolizes hope for a peaceful future

Re-establishing forest ecosystem in Uganda fights climate change

People around world meet challenge to plant a billion trees in one year

More than 100,000 Tanzanian homes built with bricks fired by agricultural waste

Tanzanian botanist honoured for reforestation efforts

Cooperation helps nomads fight desertification in Mauritania

Click a day plants 16 million trees in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal forest

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