“If you haven’t planted 10 trees, you're using up somebody else’s tree”
by ABHA ELI PHOBOO
She led an army of tree-planting mothers against the oppressive government of Kenya in the 90s and changed the way people thought of politics and the environment, two of which are intricately entwined for her. "We have finite resources on the earth and if we don't manage the environment responsibly, we will be fighting for these resources," Maathai said.
She started the Green Belt Movement, a non-governmental organisation that grew from an environmental to quasi-political and pro-democracy organisation. In the last 30 years, the Green Belt Movement has planted billions of trees and educated people in rural communities to stay informed and stand up for their rights.
What started as a benign campaign to plant trees so women in rural Kenya could deal with problems of scarcity of firewood, income and water grew bigger than anybody could've imagined. "Nobody bothered us then. After all, we were a bunch of women planting trees. Who takes women seriously anyway?" Maathai said, laughing.
The tree planting campaign led to the development of a teaching method on civil and environmental education. People in villages were taught to identify problems and find solutions. "In one seminar, we had 150 problems. We classified them as social, environment, political and others, then said, lets deal with the problems we can deal with," said Maathai. To her, planting trees is an easy solution to dealing with many of the world's problems.
The priority of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (to be accomplished by 2015) is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Seventh on the list is to ensure environmental sustainability. Maathai says that these goals go together.
"I would put environmental sustainability first," she said, "because only then can you eradicate poverty and hunger. If people have no firewood, no water and no resources, you cannot eliminate poverty."
Like Nepal, indigenous forests are important to the environmental sustainability of Kenya. Maathai started a campaign to raise awareness about such forests and the need for green spaces in cities. It was then that she came under fire of Daniel arap Moi's government, which was trying to build a skyscraper in the only public park in Nairobi.
"Politicians use their power to grab public lands. They have ordinary people fight each other. Politics of governance is extremely important. In an environment where people do not have basic freedoms, it's easy for a country to plunge into conflict. But really, it is the politicians who are competing. They use power to decide who is given or denied access to natural resources," Maathai said. The Kenyans rose to support Maathai and finally in 2002, Moi stepped down. Maathai herself was elected to parliament then but has since turned away.
Kenya is still struggling with corruption and mismanagement of resources. Maathai accomplished many things, among them was to make printing letters on both sides a Kenyan governmental policy in order to save trees. She estimates that a person uses up at least 10 trees during their lifetime and recommends that we plant as many while we live. "If you haven't planted at least 10 trees, then you're using up somebody else's tree," she said. Most problems we face today, ranging from poverty to climate change and bad debts can be solved by planting trees.
"Planting trees teach us to manage our resources in a more responsible and accountable way. If we are willing to share it equitably, we can build a culture of peace in the world," she said, "it's up to us to create systems of government where majority of the people have a voice, that their voices are heard and included. Then resources will be better managed and justice will prevail."
Abha Eli Phoboo was the editor of WAVE from 2005-2006. She is currently studying Creative Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma in the United States.
1. raju, cph
After reading this aritcle i really impressed though we are rich in this case but people who are leaving in capital must think once not ten tree atleast two tree within their compound.
Posted on: 07 DEC 2008 | 5:13 PM NST | Report Abuse
2. EtERNAIY dENIED, ktm
gr8 to c Abha di's article once again
Posted on: 19 DEC 2008 | 5:11 AM NST | Report Abuse