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Activist wins first Wangari Maathai prize

A Nepalese activist has won the inaugural Wangari Maathai Award for his effort to promote community forest management. Above, the late Prof Wangari Maathai. REUTERS
A Nepalese activist has won the inaugural Wangari Maathai Award for his effort to promote community forest management. Above, the late Prof Wangari Maathai. REUTERS 

A Nepalese activist has won the inaugural Wangari Maathai Award for his effort to promote community forest management.

Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who has worked with women and low-caste villagers for more than three decades, won the prize during a ceremony at the Committee on Forestry (COFO) in Rome on Thursday.

He initiated the country’s first community forestry group, said the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a statement issued from its headquarters in Rome.

“Narayan Kaji Shrestha’s work captures the spirit of Wangari Maathai,” said FAO assistant director-general for forestry Eduardo Rojas-Briales. “His vision, courage, commitment, intelligence, and praxis is recognised though this award.”

Prof Maathai died last year of cancer, leaving a legacy of conservation that in 2004 made her the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. Forest cover in Kenya stands at less than two per cent, way below the recommended minimum of 10 per cent.

The Wangari Maathai Awards were established by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), of which FAO is an active member, to recognise efforts to improve and sustain forests and to honour the memory of the global icon. FAO said that Shrestha “guided early attempts to create a more participatory approach to community decision-making”.

More than one-quarter of Nepal’s forests are now protected by community forestry groups.

The prize includes a cash award of $20,000 (Sh1.7 million). Kurshida Begum of Bangladesh got a special Honourable Mention prize of $2,000 (Sh170,000) for helping women in her village to form a patrol group to work alongside forest guards in protecting forests and biodiversity of the Tenkaf Wildlife Sanctuary from illegal logging and poaching.

CPF said Begum’s work helped women to gain a crucial voice and provided them with a predictable source of income and “has helped her communicate the importance of forest and natural resource issues”.

Prof Maathai’s niece, Rosemary Wanjiru Maina, and Prof Stephen Kiama Gitahi of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi, attended the awards ceremony. CPF comprises 14 international organisations that promote forest management, conservation, and sustainable development.

Some of CPF members are Unep, the World Bank, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Unicef.

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