A Kenyan woman who has spent her life fighting for the environment of her home country won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

Wangari Maathai (pronounced wan-GAH-ree mah-DHEYE) founded the "Green Belt Movement" in the 1970s after realizing that Kenya, a country in eastern Africa, had lost 90 percent of its forest in the past 50 years.

The loss of forests most affected women and young girls who had to spend hours every day searching for wood so they could cook. Many parts of Kenya are rural, with no electricity.

In the late 1970s, Maathai suggested planting trees throughout the country as a way of helping the women living in rural parts of Kenya. Other African countries took up her idea. More than 30 million trees have been planted on the continent as part of her work.

In announcing Maathai as the winner of the award on Friday, the Nobel committee said: "Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. . . . [Maathai] thinks globally and acts locally."

Maathai also has worked for women's rights in Kenya, a country of 32 million people. But her movement hasn't always been popular. She has been beaten and jailed because her work at times has displeased the country's government.

In 1989 she fought against having a tall office building and a statue of the president of Kenya built on the site of the only park in Nairobi, the capital.

She lost her case in court, but because of her protests no companies wanted to build the project. Today, on that spot, is a park called Freedom Corner.

Maathai, 64, went to college in Kansas and Pennsylvania. She received a doctorate, one of the most advanced educational degrees, from the University of Nairobi in 1971. She is thought to be the first woman from East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate.

Maathai was working when she heard she had won the Nobel award. She was helping to protect forests and giving food to Kenyans, who are suffering through a drought.

Speaking in her native language of Kikuyu, she told a group of about 200 women that she had won the world-famous award. They clapped, although most had never heard of the Nobel Prize. But everyone laughed loudly when she added that the prize comes with more money than she could ever count. Winners get a medal and $1.3 million.

A record 194 people were nominated for this year's peace prize. This is the second year in a row that the peace prize has been won by a woman. Last year, Shirin Ebadi, who fights for human rights in Iran, got the award.

-- Tracy Grant

Wangari Maathai, left, leads

an effort to

improve the environment.