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The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is an indigenous grassroots non-governmental organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya that takes a holistic approach to development by focusing on environmental conservation, community development and capacity building. Professor Wangari Maathai established the organisation in 1977, under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya.
The Green Belt Movement organises women in rural Kenya to plant trees, combat deforestation, restore their main source of fuel for cooking, generate income, and stop soil erosion. Maathai has incorporated advocacy and empowerment for women, eco-tourism, and just economic development into the Green Belt Movement.
Since Maathai started the movement in 1977, over 51 million trees have been planted. Over 30,000 women trained in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping, and other trades that help them earn income while preserving their lands and resources. Communities in Kenya (both men and women) have been motivated and organised to both prevent further environmental destruction and restore that which has been damaged.
In 2004, Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize – becoming the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize – for her work with the Green Belt Movement. Her book, The Green Belt Movement is published by Lantern Books. Maathai was a leader in ecofeminist movement.
There are two divisions of the Green Belt Movement: Green Belt Movement Kenya (GBM Kenya) and the Green Belt Movement International (GBMI).
The Green Belt Movement works in six principal areas, known as "core programs":
Each of these programs is aimed at improving the lives of local inhabitants by mobilising their own abilities to improve their livelihoods and protect their local environment, economy and culture.
In 1972, the environmental movement revolutionised advocacy and policies surrounding environmental issues such as those in The United Nations Environment Programme, also known as (UNEP). UNEP was established in Nairobi as a result of the United Nation Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm in the same year. This development helped arouse interest in the environment in Africa regardless of the fact that many governments in the region held hostile sentiments towards the policies adopted in Stockholm to limit environmental degradation. Soon after, Maathai served as chairwoman of the UNEP's Environment Liaison Center board, which today is called the Environment Liaison Center International. In 1974, Maathai's focus became forestation and reforestation issues. She introduced a tree-planting program and opened the first tree nursery, from which she formed Envirocare Ltd. Although this program experienced many setbacks because of a lack of funding and support, it facilitated Maathai's involvement with the National Council of Women of Kenya as a member of the Executive Committee in 1977. Her determination to inexpensively provide the rural women of the NCWK with sufficient wood for fuel, building, and soil conservation, inspired the Save the Land Harambee tree-planting initiative. This soon began a widespread tree-planting strategy in which over a thousand seedlings were planted in long rows to form green belts of trees, and thus marking the very beginning of the Green Belt Movement.
"These "belts" had the advantages of providing shade and windbreaks, facilitating soil conservation, improving the aesthetic beauty of the landscape and providing habitats for birds and small animals. During these local tree-planting ceremonies, community members usually turned out in large numbers. To conceptualise this fast-paced activity of creating belts of trees to adorn the naked land, the name Green Belt Movement was used."
From 1977–1988, the movement steers clear of traditional political arenas seeking to transform the social ground through reforestation and education. During the second phase, 1989–1994, the Green Belt Movement maintains these non-confrontational goals, while Wangari Maathai openly challenges the political arena. Throughout the Green Belt Movement, the organizers have been conscientious in framing their beliefs in a non-violent way. As a result, consensus, and not conflict or disruption among environmental issues has been the catalyst for major change in the social and political arena.
In 1989 the Movement took on the powerful business associates of President Daniel arap Moi. A sustained, and often lonely protest, against the construction of a 60-story business complex in the heart of Uhuru Park in Nairobi was launched and won.
In 1991 a similar protest was launched that saved Jeevanjee Gardens from the fate of being turned into a multi-story parking lot.
In 1998, the Movement led a crusade against the illegal allocation of parts of the 2,000 acre (8 km²) Karura Forest, a vital water catchment area in the outskirts of Nairobi. The struggle was finally won in 2003 when leaders of the newly elected NARC government affirmed their commitment to the forest by planting trees in the area.
This activism has come at a high cost to both Maathai in person and to the Movement. The Kenyan government closed Greenbelt offices, has twice jailed Maathai and she was subject in 1992 to a severe beating by police while leading a peaceful protest against the imprisonment of several environmental and political activists. Whilst these have served as impediments to the Greenbelt Movement, they have not stifled it and it continues as a world-renowned and respected Movement.
In 2007, the Green Belt Movement endorsed the Forests Now Declaration, calling for new market based mechanisms to protect tropical forests.
In the early 21st century, the Movement is now vibrant and has succeeded in achieving many of the goals it set out to meet. Environmental protection has been achieved through tree planting, including 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 about 3,000 part-time jobs.