Claims versus realities in Guyana’s forest sector
Janette Bulkan is a Social Anthropologist who was Coordinator of the Amerindian Research Unit, University of Guyana from 1985 to 1999 and Senior Social Scientist at the Iwokrama International Centre from 2000 to 2003.
By Janette Bulkan
Editor’s Note: The second instalment of Arif Bulkan’s column on the Jagdeo Presidency, will be carried next week Monday.
This being the election season, it seemed appropriate to consider the state of the forest/forestry sector in Guyana: what the political parties have proposed, and some aspects of the current state as claimed compared with what is reported. The forest sector was stagnant or in decline in the late 1980s, Asian loggers already experienced in Suriname were licking their lips about Guyana, and the PNC allowed Barama in effect to write its own foreign direct investment (FDI) agreement in 1991. The Guyana Forestry Commission had lost so many staff to emigration that a non-Guyanese was appointed as Commissioner in the early 1990s to bring some stability. Importantly, he wrote the policy on allocation of concessions in 1993, differentiating between salvage and small-scale logging in poor quality and deteriorated forest under 2-year concessions and providing a stimulus for long-term investment with associated forest management obligations under concessions up to 25 years, as originally intended in 1982.
What the political manifestos have
to say about the forest sector
The PPP election manifesto in 2006 gave half a page to the forest sector – ‘Sustainable management of forestry resources will continue to enhance economic, social and ecological benefits through increased operational efficiency, improved quality and volume of value-added and non-timber forest products and better environmental stewardship’. The PPP continued with seven specific points for implementation of the National Forest(s) Plan which had been neglected since 2001, three times mentioning value-addition and also investment. For 2011, the PPP had cut back on interest in the forest sector to one paragraph – ‘Encourage more value-added forestry by working closely with all stakeholders on addressing constraints while continuing to support the development of our timber and non-timber resources in a sustainable way consistent with the LCDS’.
At the time of writing (08 November), the AFC had issued six points in a half-page on forestry policy. The AFC would revert to and further develop the 2004 draft revision of the Forests Act, and update the associated draft Forest Regulations. This appears to be feasible, because the Forests Act 2009 was not given presidential assent for 628 days after being passed by the National Assembly and this may be unconstitutional, besides not yet having been activated by a Commencement Order.
The AFC would make the Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting (2002) obligatory for all long-term logging concessions, and would support and implement the current revision of the National Forest Policy 1997. That revision of the long-neglected policy is so far quite superficial and mainly rhetorical. A more open and transparent process involving more stakeholders might be more forceful in counteracting the last decade of log exports that have been entirely contrary to national policy for on-shore value-addition and local investment.
The AFC would publish current and future FDI arrangements as well as concession licences, all production and export records, and the also neglected strategic plan for allocation of State Forest Resources.
That plan should rationalize the division of forest resources between local enterprises and associations (including community groups and Amerindian Village Councils), such that Guyanese entrepreneurs are not left with the poorer forest while foreign companies making big promises are given the best forests.
How is the forest sector doing?
Shortage of sawn lumber for local
The boom in domestic housing and retail emporia, not to mention large family mansions, has contributed to a shortage of the preferred durable and easy-to-saw commercial timbers. 83 per cent of recorded log production was exported as unprocessed logs in the first quarter of this year, 56 per cent in the first half of the year. This is absolutely contrary to national policy but according to Press reports it makes the junior Minister for Forestry feel proud. The senior Minister, who is also the President, meanwhile insists that it is business-as-usual for large-scale loggers and miners, notwithstanding the simultaneous claim that Guyana is engaged in the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD-plus). By a further inversion of logic, the President also presses Norway for payments for environmental services while avoiding making any explicit commitment to reduced emissions of forest carbon, or indeed any other kind of greenhouse gas emissions.
The GFC has made small-scale efforts, with International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) donor funding, to promote technically adequate but less commercially preferred timbers for domestic use. Minimum standards for lumberyards and sawmills are also proposed, with other ITTO support. However, since 1953 the GFC has had sufficient legal power to prevent over-harvesting of the preferred but uncommon species, but has not used that power. Consequently, even by 2006, purpleheart was being overcut by 30 times more than the natural rate of regeneration and regrowth, yet the GFC has allowed production and export to expand. Worse still, the GFC has apparently abandoned the species-by-species allocation of allowable cut which is mentioned in the Code of Practice, and now illogically uses the same yield allocation process for 2-year unsustainable concessions as for 25-year sustainable concessions.
No wonder that the Efeca consultancy earlier this year found that the Guyana Legality Assurance System (GLAS) was simply not working, as well as being unworkable.
An apparently simple measure such as a ban on the export of logs of the over-harvested timbers is not the answer. Log bans have been evaded in most tropical countries, and Guyana’s weak Customs service and an eyes-wide-shut GFC have not evidently tried to prevent illegal logging and illegal log export: no GFC staff have been disciplined for the cocaine-in-logs affair in March this year. What is needed is a properly devised and enforced variable rate levy on log exports. Such levies capture the State’s fair share of the excess value of preferred timbers, making it more worthwhile to process the logs locally than to export them. The low and market-insensitive levy imposed by the GFC from 2009 is clearly ineffective.
FDI and large-scale loggers
When proposed in 1970 by the FAO FIDS project, the idea of large-scale, industrial intensity, long-term logging concessions was that only a large-scale of operation and security of tenure would allow efficient and effective sustainable forest management of the relatively commercially poor tropical rainforests of Guyana. Barama’s 1.67 million (now 1.61 million) hectare concession was a late example of this thinking.
However, Barama’s self-written FDI agreement imposes no definite investment commitments on that company, no objectively verifiable progress indicators, no penalties for failing to invest. Instead the arrangement gives extraordinarily favourable tax and other concessions, in effect giving Barama and similar FDI holders a 30 per cent operating cost advantage over local entrepreneurs.
This penalizing of local enterprise has been in place since 1991, and Go-Invest has taken no action to reform the absurdity. Guyana continues to score poorly in global indices on quality of governance and on ease of doing business. FDI arrangements continue to be negotiated at Cabinet level instead of by economic and business experts, and remain secret. Professional and trade associations in Guyana have no public role in decisions on new FDI entrants.
Learning no lessons from Barama, Bai Shan Lin (partly owned by the Government of China), and Ja Lin, the Government then failed to follow its own rules and awarded two concessions (one logging and one exploratory permit) to an Indian coffee retailer with no demonstrated relevant experience. Since those awards in 2010, disclosed by the Press in April 2011, the Government has provided no public evidence that the prescribed due diligence checks were carried out.
Legality of timber
production and export
Since more than a decade ago, a variety of stakeholders have been raising increasing concerns about the negative effects of illegal logging and illegal trade in forest products, especially but not exclusively in tropical countries. An action plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) was established by the European Union in 2003, and the USA expanded its Lacey Act controls to illegal timber and wood products in 2008. The Norway-Guyana MoU of November 2009 requires Guyana to explore a FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement with the EU. The Guyana response has been the weak and very incomplete standard (GLAS) nominally developed by the Guyana National Bureau of Standards. Amazingly, the GLAS does not cover the relevant government agencies or inter-agency coordination.
USAID commissioned Efeca to review the GLAS in March this year, and the constructively critical report was handed publicly to the junior Minister for Forestry in October. No improvements have been announced although the GFC knew by May about the Efeca recommendations, including a thorough re-design outlined in Efeca’s annex 4.
Unfortunately, several other similar contrasts between Governments claims and actuality could be mentioned. Overall, the impression is of a Ministry of Agriculture and Guyana Forestry Commission that have been negligently losing technical ability while claiming to be at the forefront of sustainable management of tropical rainforests. How will the GFC recover? It is soliciting yet more money for carbon monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) from the World Bank-coordinated Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and from Norway’s GRIF, for a total of more than USD 4 million just for MRV.
Yet the GFC cannot report accurately on the production and export of forest products; and will not spend a cent on LCDS communications with hinterland communities, according to the chair of the National Toshaos Council. Surely the priorities of the GFC and indeed the whole Government with respect to the forest sector are upside down?