Wangari Muta Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She was educated in the United States, Germany, and at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In the 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental nongovernmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. The movement has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires. A 1989 United Nations report noted that only nine trees were being replanted in Africa for every 100 that were cut down, causing serious problems with deforestation: soil runoff, water pollution, difficulty finding firewood, and a lack of animal nutrition.
The program has been carried out primarily by women in the villages of Kenya, who through protecting their environment and through the paid employment for planting the trees, are able to better care for their children and their children’s future. In 1984, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”