Addis Ababa, 3 March 2016 - African nations explored on Thursday measures to improve women's access to natural resources at the celebration of the Africa Environment Day-Wangari Mathaai Day, held at the African Union (AU) Headquarters.
The commemoration followed a two-day Women and the Environment Forum co-organized by the AU, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to highlight the multiple benefits of empowering women in natural resource management.
Opening the forum, Her Excellency Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, said that inclusive growth could not be achieved without deliberate and serious attempts at continental, regional and national levels to address the challenges of improving women's economic and social rights, especially in areas of tenure security to land and other natural resources.
A recent report by UNEP and partners estimated that improving women's access to agricultural inputs-such as land, knowledge, fertilizers and improved seeds-would help to close the gender gap in agricultural productivity, estimated at up to 25 per cent in some countries.
Closing the gender gaps in agricultural productivity in Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania alone has the potential to increase these countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $272 million and lift 437,000 people out of poverty.
Celebrated as part of the African Year of Human Rights with a Particular Focus on Women's Rights, the theme of this year's Africa Environment Day-Wangari Maathai Day is a special tribute to the continent's first female Nobel Peace Prize winner. Wangari Maathai dedicated her life to improving women's livelihoods by empowering them to restore the degraded ecosystems around them.
She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, encouraging women in rural Kenya to plant trees in order to gain better access to clean water, firewood for cooking and other resources. Since then, the movement has planted over 30 million trees in Africa and assisted nearly 900,000 women to establish tree nurseries.
In 2004, the Nobel Prize Committee recognized Professor Maathai's lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of women by awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize. She was the first environmentalist and the first African woman to receive the honour.
Professor Maathai was the inspiration behind UNEP's Billion Tree Campaign, launched in 2006. She became a patron of the campaign, inspiring thousands of people across the world to plant trees for the benefit of their communities.
In 2013, the Green Belt Movement and the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD +) programme launched an innovative public-private partnership of multinationals, governments, civil society and indigenous peoples to prevent the emission of up to 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by reducing deforestation.
As UNEP's African Adaptation Gap 2014 report makes clear, reducing forest loss is critical to building the continent's climate change resilience, which is already costing $7-15 billion each year.
Notes to Editors
Africa Environment Day was designated in 2002 by the Council of Ministers of the Organization of African Unity at their meeting in Durban, South Africa, based on the recognition of the numerous environmental challenges facing the African continent, which over the years have been further aggravated by loss of biological diversity, climate change, desertification and increased pollution and disposal of chemical waste. In January 2012, the African Union adopted a decision calling for the joint celebrations of Africa Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day.
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