Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai said late on Saturday that her 2004 peace prize has helped to change the world's view on the environment.

The 66-year-old is the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the prize, which has brought wider international interest in her lifelong fight to help Africa's poor by organizing the planting of tens of millions of trees.

Maathai told Reuters at the launch of her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman's Story, that the Nobel committee deliberately chose her to prick the global conscience.

I believe it was a very strong, deliberate message by the Nobel Peace Committee to demonstrate the seriousness of the warn the world that unless we pay attention to this issue we are headed for wars, she said at the launch in her hometown of Nyeri in central Kenya.

It is so much better now...this message is being taken very seriously especially with respect to what could happen to the world because of global warming, she said.

Maathai's Green Belt Movement, mainly women, has gone on to plant about 30 million trees around Africa, 7 million of them in Kenya, in a campaign to slow deforestation and erosion.

The movement has spread to about 20 African nations.

Maathai has been arrested, tear-gassed, whipped, threatened with death and once clubbed unconscious by police in the 1990s during her fight against government seizures of public forests.

Now a member of parliament, she said the prize gave her a broader platform to talk about environmental activism and her belief that conflicts, especially in Africa, were related to the distribution of and access to resources.

In Kenya, fights over scarce water and pasture are frequent among the pastoral communities who roam the country's desolate northern regions. Ethnic animosity often turns bloody.

Most of the time we are fighting over access and control over resources, water, grazing grounds, land, oil, she said.

The imposing and blunt-speaking Maathai has spent most of the last 20 years in court, trying to block the clearing of forests by the government of former President Daniel arap Moi.

The Moi administration was entrenched in corruption which was very destructive to our environment, she said.

In the book, the veterinary anatomy professor describes her childhood growing up in the lush green hills around Kenya's highest peak, Mount Kenya.

She says witnessing the cutting down of trees in the area to make way for cultivation pushed her into her activism.

When asked about the title of her book, Maathai said: I am like a lone tree pushed this way and that way by the wind.

I may be a little bent, but I'm not broken.