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Kenyan Peace Prize Winner Campaigns for Forest Protection  - 2004-10-11

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, Monday spoke against widespread practices, such as forest farming, that, she says, are responsible for deforestation in her country. Ms. Maathai said forest protection is her top priority.

Ms. Maathai told reporters before the opening of the Conference of Women Ministers for the Environment that Kenya's forests have been steadily cleared over the past 70 years to make way for plantations of exotic species. She says the policy has destroyed the country's biological diversity and water reservoirs.

Ms. Maathai said he hopes the recognition that goes with winning the Nobel Peace Prize will motivate her government to stop the deforestation of Kenya.

"This recognition in many way[s] endorses the campaign and brings it to the forefront so that leaders in this country can really realize that protecting the forest in this country is a matter of life and death," she said.

The Nobel Peace Laureate said the biggest challenge facing the government is to make people understand that forest destruction is irreversible.

"When you talk of forest, they think that any tree standing can make a forest, and we are trying to explain that forests are systems, they are ecosystems, and must be protected like that," said Wangari Maathai.

Ms. Maathai, who serves as Kenya's deputy environment minister, planted a tree at the U.N. complex in Nairobi before addressing the opening session of the women ministers' conference.

She urged the participants to be persistent and courageous in their efforts to protect the environment.