Cécile Ndjebet was chosen as the recipient of the 2022 Wangari Maathai Forest Champion Awards, which is hosted by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This year’s event was hosted in Seoul, Korea.
Ndjebet is a Cameroonian activist who is well known for her efforts in preserving forests, and standing up for the rights of women when it comes to owning agricultural and forest land.
“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 FAO deputy director-general and CPF chair Maria Helena Semedo.
Approximately 70% of Cameroonian women live in rural regions and rely on wild forest products for a portion of their income. But, in some communities, women are denied the right to own forest land, inherit it if their spouse dies, or even grow trees on degraded ground. Ndjebet has worked relentlessly to promote the idea that women should participate in forest management and have equal access to forest land and resources.
A voice for gender equality
Ndjebet has become a key voice in creating global recognition for the need of gender equality in forest management through the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests, which she co-founded in 2009. The organisation now has 20 African countries as members.
“Men generally recognise the great role women play in improving families’ living standards,” Ndjebet 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.”
Through Cameroon Ecology (Cam-Eco), which she formed in 2001, Ndjebet has been a driving force in implementing forestry law and good governance in Cameroon, as well as introducing a new approach to community forestry and the restoration of damaged lands and forests. Cam-Eco has worked to educate, train, and support women in understanding and participating in forest conservation and restoration.
How the awards came to be
The Forest Champions Award, established by the CPF in 2012 in commemoration of Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, honours remarkable individuals who have helped preserve, restore, and manage forests sustainably.
“This year’s award winner met Wangari Maathai in 2009, and the environmentalist personally encouraged Ndjebet in her work to support women planting trees,” the FAO said.
The CPF brings together 15 international organisations to promote sustainable forest management and strengthen long-term political commitment.