Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Internatonal forestry community mourns death of Wangari Maathai

Forest Day 5 was held on saturday at a venue close by the site of the COP meetings. The opening ceremony was concluded by a video tribute to Wangari Maathai. Professor Maathai passed away on September 25th, 2011 at the age of 71 years.

Wangari Maathai was one of the most impressive people I've ever met. I met her after she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, when she was using the Peace Prize platform to speak on behalf of forest conservation and African women. I had several chances to brief her about agroforestry, avoided deforestation, and the state of knowledge about the the potential for address climate change objectives through improved forest management and on-farm tree management. She was invariably warm, hospitable and smiling.

The video tribute brought tears to my eyes. It celebrated the fact that she was the first woman from East Africa to earn a PhD degree. It depicted the violent way that she was treated by the Moi regime and the way that she bravely stood her ground. The video showed how she bravely defended Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi and Karura Forest on the outskirts of Nairobi, suffereing physical attacks by the police. She worked with tens of thousands of rural Kenya women to plant trees on-farm and in forests. She was an articulate spokesperson for the Congo Basin Forest Fund and the Billion Tree Campaign. The video had clips of interviews with Gordon Brown, Bill Clinton and Al Gore who all knew Professor Maathai.

Her passing is a great loss. The high profile that agroforestry and forestry have had at these COP meetings is some testimony to her influence.

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