Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement

The recent death of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement gives us the opportunity to reflect on her inspiring story but also consider how her influence on the environmental agenda in Africa has shaped the political landscape of our world today.  Born in a small village in Kenya in 1940, then part of the British Empire, Maathai was educated around the world, in America and Germany and Kenya, before embarking on a successful political career. Her unique insight was that Keyna, and other developing countries, would be better off if economic and social progress went hand in hand with environmental protection.


The Green Belt Movement was set up by Maathai in 1977 in what began as a grassroots tree planning program to address the issues of soil erosion, deforestation, a lack of water, and became a means of empowerment for women and a green voice and ethos for developing nations. The green belt movement has remained an influential and important NGO to this date. Its website details that more than 40 million trees have been planted across Africa helping reduce soil erosion in critical watershed areas, vast areas of biodiversity rich forest has been protected and even restored, whilst thousands of women and their families have been empowered to stand up for their rights.


The Green Belt Movement is increasingly welcome in a world where developing countries are attempting to bridge the gap between developed countries, often in the least sustainable and resource intensive way. With the developed world’s history littered with intensive industrialisation and resource use, the environmental agenda that the global community puts on these countries could be viewed as westernised. The Green Belt Movement represents a home-grown attempt to address these issues in an appropriate manner.


The Green Belt Movement is now well established and renowned, working in six principal areas, known as “core programs”:

  • Advocacy & Networking
  • Civic & Environmental Education
  • Environmental Conservation/Tree Planting
  • Green Belt Safaris (GBS)
  • Pan African Training Workshops; and
  • Women for Change (capacity building)


The movement has succeeded in achieving many of the goals it set out to meet. Environmental protection achieved through tree planting, soil conservation, sustainable management of the local environment and economy and the protection and boosting of local livelihoods. In addition to helping local women to generate their own incomes through such ventures as seed sales, the Movement has succeeded in educating thousands of low-income women about forestry and has created around 3,000 jobs.


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