Forestry sector in crisis

Earlier this week the Stabroek Business conducted an interview with two officials of the Forest Products Association (FPA) in order to secure a perspective on the state of the sector. We did not speak with the Guyana Forestry Commission, not because we felt it might not have something enlightening to say on the issue but because our experience with the commission has been that even the most mundane enquiries are usually fed into the bureaucracy for responses and, frankly, there are times when the responses are tangential, not at all connected to the questions and, if the truth be told, a waste of time.

The current President of the Forest Producers Association, Khellawan, and a former president, Hilbertus Cort, spoke with us at length about the state of the industry and what they had to say made it clear that the sector was facing an acute crisis.

The litany of woes would fill twice the space allocated to this editorial. Those that come to mind, however, bespeak an industry in which traditional investors have fled having been unable to recapitalize companies that run on obsolete equipment. More than that, it is simply a question of the sector not being able to afford to keep itself going, given, for example, the costs associated with building roads to logging sites.

Beyond these problems what is clear is that the sector has lost its appeal, the perceived risks of logging have caused the lending institutions to become ultra cautious and as Mr Cort put it when we posed the question of access to commercial bank loans, the sector has simply not been able to produce the “bankable proposals” which potential lenders are looking for.

And while the authorities may be loathe to admit this, both Khellawan and Cort were only too willing to state that the forestry sector continues to lose ground to gold mining. It seems that while a great deal of the burden associated with creating infrastructure – like roads – is left to the forestry sector, the government is not particularly willing to engage that sector with a view to easing some of its tougher woes.

The two FPA officials went on to say that even as most of the bigger players in the industry grind to a halt only to be replaced in some instances by smaller, even less well-capitalized companies, the sector continues to lose much of its skills to the gold industry. An excavator operator in the mining sector can earn up to four or five times what he is paid in the forestry sector. Cooks too do well in the gold-mining sector compared with the forestry sector.

If the FPA officials do not appear to have completely lost heart over the state of the industry, they are not exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm. Khellawan and Cort are not persuaded that the sector has the government’s ear at this time and both of them are of the view that unless the government can share with the industry the challenges associated with fixing it, the prognosis for the future is grim.

They make some additional points, like the implications of the LCDS for the future of logging; the new technologies associated with building construction that require a lesser timber input; the lack of emphasis on the science of the sector that leads to confusion on issues like the use of non-traditional species and the failure to take any real advantage of the value-added potential of the sector.

On the whole Messrs Khellawan and Cort—without seeking to be excessively alarmist about the situation—painted a worrying picture of the forestry sector and somehow we believe that in the course of the interview they were doing their best to enquire as to whether, perhaps, the media might not have a duty to help advocate some kind of serious sitting down between themselves and the subject minister for the purpose of searching for solutions that might help heal a badly ailing forestry sector.

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The Coconut Industry

The recent announcement that Guyana will be hosting a high-profile coconut industry forum in October this year will probably not attract much sustained interest beyond the direct stakeholders in the industry though in his briefing on the forum and the industry as a whole provided to this newspaper, Mr Raymond Trotz, Chairman of the National Stakeholders Forum for Coconut Development hoped otherwise.

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Public/Private Sector Partnership

The evidence that all is far from well in terms of the relationship between the government and the private sector can no longer be ignored.

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Keeping private sector concerns in the public eye

The burden of our responsibility as the Stabroek News’ weekly Business Supplement is to publish stories and points of view on issues pertaining to the growth, development, challenges, limitations, successes and failures of the local business community.

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City Hall, central government and the parking meter matter

It is a comforting thing that sections of the citizenry have opted to hold City Hall to account in the parking meter brouhaha, if only to make the point that its behaviour in the matter of the rolling out of the project runs counter to the very commitment that it made to democratic conduct when it took office to replace a predecessor administration that had itself been accused of, not infrequently, acting as a law onto itself.

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A perspective on the small business sector

While the Stabroek Business has been unable to secure a reliable estimate of the extent of the increase in urban trading over the past five years we have noticed the pronounced upsurge in small business investments in sectors such as grooming and beauty treatment (barbering, hairdressing, cosmetology), fashion, food vending and IT goods and services.

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City Hall and the parking meters

The very last thing that City Hall needs now that it is probably better-positioned than it was a few months ago to put behind it a past strewn with accusations of fraud, mismanagement and corruption is more of the same, though it seems on the basis of the available evidence that it may not be particularly mindful of the consequences of passing the same way twice.

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