Professor Wangari Muta Maathai

Professor Wangari Muta Maathai

1991 Africa Prize Laureate

Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya

Professor Maathai won the award for founding the Green Belt Movement, one of the world's most successful programs to combine community development with environmental protection. The movement has built the self-reliance and self-confidence of tens of thousands living in poverty, convincing them that planting trees will make a difference in their struggle to improve their lives and those of future generations. As of July 1991, the movement has planted 10 million trees, has established 1,500 nurseries and has involved 50,000 women who plant seedlings and distribute and care for the trees. Because it is inexpensive and replicable, the Green Belt Movement has proven to be an effective method for rural development, and has spread quickly to twelve other countries in Africa. The movement has also attracted the attention and support of people and governments throughout the developed world. The tree-planting serves as a springboard to address other interrelated issues -- food production, firewood, soil erosion, desertification -- that affect African rural farmers. Environmental education is also a priority in the Green Belt Movement. More than one million young people have been recruited to plant green belts around their schools and to care for the seedlings until they are self-sufficient. Professor Maathai's most recent contribution to the fight against degradation of the Kenyan environment was her successful grassroots effort to block the construction of a planned multi-million dollar high-rise complex that would have obliterated much of Uhuru Park, one of Nairobi's largest green belts.

Professor Maathai passed away on September 26, 2011. Read our public condolences at the time of her passing here.