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Champion of women’s right to manage land and forests wins top environment prize

Cameroonian activist, Cécile Ndjebet, winner of the 2022 Wangari Maathai Forest Champions Award.
© FAO/Pilar Valbuena
Cameroonian activist, Cécile Ndjebet, winner of the 2022 Wangari Maathai Forest Champions Award.

Champion of women’s right to manage land and forests wins top environment prize

Climate and Environment

A veteran Cameroonian activist working to preserve her country’s forests, and improve the lives of people who depend on them, is the latest winner of a UN-backed international environmental prize. 

Cécile Ndjebet is the recipient of the 2022 Wangari Maathai Forest Champions Award by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), which is chaired by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

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Ms. Ndjebet was presented with the award at a ceremony in Seoul, Republic of Korea, during the XV World Forestry Congress. 

A voice for equality 

“This award celebrates Cécile Ndjebet’s energy and dedication over three decades in promoting women’s rights to land and forests. She has actively shown that women’s participation in forest governance and preservation is fundamental to achieving sustainable forest management,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General and chair of the CPF, which comprises 15 international organizations. 

Ms. Ndjebet is a co-founder of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests, established in 2009, which now has 20 member countries across the continent. 

She has become a leading voice, both in her homeland and internationally, in building global recognition on the importance of gender equality in forest management.  

Promoting women’s involvement 

In Cameroon, roughly 70 per cent of women live in rural areas and are dependent at least in part on harvesting wild forest products for their livelihoods. 

However, in some communities, women cannot own forest land, inherit it if their husband dies, or even plant trees on degraded land. 

Ms. Ndjebet has tirelessly promoted the concept that women should be involved in forest management and have equal rights to forest land and resources.  When they do, not only are forests better preserved, but entire communities also benefit. 

“Men generally recognise the great role women play in improving families’ living standards,” she said. “But it is important for them also to agree that for women to continue to play that role, and even improve in that role, they need secure access to land and forests.”  

FAO added that the activist has long been a driving force in implementing forestry law and good governance in Cameroon, and establishing a new approach on community forestry and the restoration of degraded lands and forests, through Cameroon Ecology (Cam-Eco), which she founded two decades ago.  

The organization has worked to inform, train and support women to understand sustainability issues and to get involved in forest conservation and restoration.  

Honouring forest champions 

The Forest Champions Award is named in honour of Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, the late Wangari Maathai, who was also a UN Messenger of Peace

The CPF established the award in 2012 in her memory to recognize inspiring persons who have helped preserve, restore and sustainably manage forests. 

Ms. Ndjebet met Ms. Maathai in 2009, who personally encouraged her in her work to support women planting trees. 

Previous Wangari Maathai Forest Champion Award winners include Nepalese community forestry movement leader, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Mexican environmental campaigner, Martha Isabel ‘Pati’ Ruiz Corzo, and Burundian forestry activist Léonidas Nzigiyimpa.