In Kenya the forest is a woman

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By Emmanuel Mayah

In Kenya the forest is a woman. They both have lived the same destiny and witnessed the same fate: from abuse to neglect and now the tireless struggle for restoration. This metaphor captures the spirit of the Green Belt Movement founded by the late environmental activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Wangari Maathai. Everyone says that had she not died earlier this year, Wangari was sure to have come to Durban with a forest by her side.
According to Prof Prof. Karanja Njoroge, Acting Executive Director of Green Belt Movement, the organization founded by Wangari, the goal of Green Belt as captured in the essence of the late activist, is working with community groups to restore indigenous forests in Kenya. When Green Belt was founded in 1977, the object was to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who complained that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get wood from the forest for cooking and heating. The organization began by encouraging the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide food and firewood. The message to the women was simple: to save yourself, you need to save the forest first.
Explaining the Wangari vision, Karanja Njoroge said Green Belt approaches community development from the grassroots. Using tree-planting as an entry point, the movement mobilizes communities, especially women, to plant trees and improve their livelihoods. Women organize themselves into tree nursery groups and learn about the importance of environmental protection. They take an active role in improving their communities by growing and nurturing tree seedlings. Once grown, these trees provide community members with basic services like food, firewood and building materials.
On community-based climate change projects, Green Belt says rural communities in Africa are experiencing the impacts of climate change including severe drought, erratic rainfall and crop failure. Bearing in mind that forest incomes are a vital economic buffer for people living in and around the forests, particularly women, children and the poorest households, Green Belt in 2005 initiated a pilot Afforestation Restoration (AR) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project. The aim was to learn from and experiment with how such projects could contribute towards community livelihoods through payment for ecosystem services, while mitigating against the impacts of climate change, and scaling up conservation of biodiversity in highly degraded areas.



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