Wanjira Mathai (Green Belt Movement)

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INTERVIEW WUTH Wanjira Mathai          
(Chairperson of Green Belt Movement - Kenya)



Let’s think about our daily life. We get up early in the morning, have a shower with “current water” (which we get simply by turning up the tap), and get food wherever we want during the whole day. That seems so normal that we can’t imagine someone living a different life. But that’s not the same for all people living in Kenya. In the 1970s, rural Kenyan women were reporting drying-up streams, food supply becoming less secure, great difficulty in getting firewood. This is why in 1977, Professor Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, founded the Green Belt Movement to help solving these problems and propose adaptation and mitigation actions to Climate Change. Since the establishment of the Green Belt Movement, landscapes have been restored and life for women in Kenya has improved a lot. The Green Belt Movement is an environmental organization headquartered in Kenya, with offices in the USA and in Europe. Among its main initiatives are Tree Planting and Water Harvesting, Gender Livelihood and Advocacy, and Climate Action.   What are GBM major advocacy campaigns? What are the peculiarity of Climate Change in Africa? How can Developed Countries really help Afrcian Countries? Wanjira Mathai, Chairperson of the Green Belt Movement answered these and other questions.




INTERVIEW - (June 2017)
This interview was made and published in June 2017  on www.lteconomy.org  

Subject: Green Belt Movement initiatives, Climate Change and Women empowering in Kenia    



  • The GBM has focused on the interests of the Kenyan women in pursuit of the economic, social and environmental interests of the country.
  • Our main activity? Tree planting: since GBM the outset, on one hand we needed something to increase the role of women in Kenyan society, and, on the other hand, resolve the country's strong environmental crisis.
  • A watershed is region or area of land where all of the water that falls on it ultimately drains to a particular watercourse or body of water… This approach is applicable anywhere there are degraded landscapes.
  • GBM is also involved in high-level “advocacy” activities that include speaking on national and international forums on climate change and the role of women in addressing it. 
  • My feeling is that developed nations can support by sharing their knowledge and technologies so that there is a transfer of this wisdom to address issues that many of them may already have addressed.


Question 1: Dear Wanjira, thank you for being with us. You’re the Chairperson of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in Kenya. Could you tell us what is the GBM, what are the interests it does represent and why such a movement is so important for Kenya and countries like it?
The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was founded in 1977, with a very clear mission:  to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who had reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel, building and fencing.    Working with grassroots women was therefore a strategic imperative because addressing their needs would also address food, water and energy security.
Tree planting was the tool that GBM used to mobilise women.  The model was simple: the GBM encouraged the women to take leadership in their communities - work together to grow seedlings and plant trees and receive a small monetary token of appreciation for their work.  The project blossomed, and in 2004 for her transformative leadership at GBM, the Founder, my dear late mother, Prof. Wangari Maathai, received the Nobel Peace Prize becoming the first African woman to ever do so.  Todate, over 51 Million trees have been planted with support from the Green Belt Movement.
Shortly after beginning this work, Wangari Maathai and her colleagues begun to appreciate that there was something more profound going on in Kenya’s landscapes- that behind the everyday hardships faced by women in rural areas were deeper issues of disempowerment, disenfranchisement, mis-governance, inequality and an erosion of values.  These elements had previously cushioned and enabled communities to: protect their livelihoods, work together for the mutual benefit of all, and to do so both selflessly and honestly for the common good.   In part because of the GBM’s own work, we understand much more completely the linkage between deforestation, governance and peace.  And about how these pillars form the foundation for sustainable development.  
The GBM continues to support women to take active roles in decision-making about their lives, in their communities, and to challenge injustices, particularly environmental ones. Through this holistic approach, underlying social, political and economic causes of poverty and environmental degradation are addressed.
Today the level of tree planting required to bring Kenya’s gazetted forest cover to 10% is estimated to be upwards of 5 billion trees.  The Green Belt Movement has the capacity to plant an impressive 3-4 million trees per year, maybe even more with a bit of a scale up.   But still, it would take us 1,200 years if GBM was working alone.  We need all Kenyans to engage.
Question 2: One of your most important campaigns is “Tree Planting and Water Harvesting”: since 1977, GBM communities have planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. What is the watershed-based approach? What are the results achieved and your future plans? In which other Countries do you think this approach could successfully be applied?
A watershed is region or area of land where all of the water that falls on it ultimately drains to a particular watercourse or body of water.  If you track a drop of water that falls anywhere within the watershed, it will eventually flow out through the same watercourse. The Green Belt Movement’s watershed approach is about the restoration of degraded watersheds of key water catchments and forest ecosystems in order to enhance their functions and improve the livelihoods of local communities.  The GBM uses it’s time tested tree-planting procedure to rehabilitate degraded watersheds by replanting local species, to support and diversify sources of income of the neighboring forest communities by promoting alternative energy and entrepreneurship opportunities, and to restore habitats for local biodiversity and promote ecologically sound community initiatives. So far, the Green Belt Movement has worked closely with the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources in Kenya to work on restoration activities in 5 major water towers – Mt. Kenya, Aberdare Mountain Range, Mau Complex, Mt. Elgon and the Cherengani Hills.
Not only Kenia...
This approach is applicable anywhere there are degraded landscapes.  There are global ambitions for landscape restoration as enshrined in the BONN Challenge and NY Forest Declaration.  Globally the world has committed to restoring 350M Ha of land by 2030.  To do this will require a concerted efforts by all nations of the world.  In Africa, the World Resources Institute and NEPAD are supporting the AFR100 Initiative that aims to restore 100M Ha of African landscapes by 2030.  This effort identifies the countries in Africa where restoration potential is high and success can be achieved.
Question 3: The Green Belt Movement (GBM) has its own Climate Change Program. In what does it consist of?  Does it focus more on adaptation or mitigation actions?
The Green Belt Movement’s tree planting and watershed restoration programs represent the Climate Change “mitigation” efforts of the Movement.  GBM is also involved in high level “advocacy” activities that include speaking on national and international forums on climate change and the role of women in addressing it.
Question 4: So, since its foundation in 1977, the Green Belt Movement has given great importance to the role of woman in rural society. What is your policy and your measures in terms of women engagement in Kenya’s society? In which way can woman inclusion and empowerment help sustainable development? 
In addition to what has been addressed in the above questions, the Green Belt Movement’s focus on women been a strategic imperative.  Women are often the ones most affected when communities lack water, fuel and food.  So GBM works primarily with women but not exclusively.  This is because we know that in any community there are men, women and children.  We must see communities in their entirely and not only through one lens.  GBM engages women to catalyse change but often this change involves men and children.
Question 5: What’s the role of Advanced countries?
My feeling is that developed nations can support by sharing their knowledge and technologies so that there is a transfer of this wisdom to address issues that many of them may already have addressed.   We also know that a lot of this work takes money.  Developed nations should also allocate money to address the most pressing global challenges of our time.  Because if one of us is suffering, we will all eventually be affected.
Question 6: Finally, what are the Countries you are most partnering with? What are your future projects?
The Green Belt Movement has partners around the world mainly in Europe and the USA.  In future, the Green Belt Movement is looking at increasing its role in global and local advocacy for environmental protections, especially the protection of the commons – parks, play grounds, forests – many of which are under pressure from the demands of urbanization. 

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