Iwokrama still seeking sustainable financing

- gov’t remains lifeline as int’l funding declines

Close to two decades after its establishment, Iwokrama—the forest reserve meant to be a model of sustainability—remains financially dependent on government for a huge portion of its financing even as international funding dwindles.

The 2012-2013 Annual Report for the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development revealed that total income for 2013 dropped 38% over 2012 levels mainly as a result of a 40% drop in grants income. “2012-2013 remained another challenging period for the Centre as it struggled to find a viable financial model in light of the still enduring international financial crisis. Support from the Government of Guyana continued to be our major source of funding and the Centre continued to implement its austerity programme and pursue consolidation activities,” Iwokrama’s Chief Executive Officer Dane Gobin said in his message.

“We are confident that in 2014 with the start of the second phase of our sustainable timber operations, the implementation of the new tourism Business Plan, maintenance of its austerity programme, and a recommitment by its founding partners, the Centre will make strong strides towards developing a sustainable financial model,” he said.

President Donald Ramotar assured that government will continue to support Iwokrama. “In recent years financial support from the international community has dwindled and it has become necessary for the Government of Guyana to inject significant direct financial support to the Centre so that it may carry on with its noble work,” he observed.

He noted that the rate of deforestation in the world remains unabated despite the international rhetoric on the dangers of increased emissions of greenhouse gasses. Forests have an important role to play in the fight against climate change and our challenge is to ensure forests are worth more alive than dead, the President said, even as he appealed for the continued support of the international community, the Commonwealth Secretariat and others to help the Centre through this challenging period.

Almost two decades ago, on November 9, 1995, the late president Cheddi Jagan and Chief Ameka Anyaoku, the then secretary general of the Commonwealth, inked an agreement for the establishment of Iwokrama. It covers close to one million acres of forest or 371,000 hectares, in the centre of Guyana, which was pledged by the late president Desmond Hoyte in 1989 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. In 1996, the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development Act came into being, establishing the Centre as an autonomous corporate body, governed by an International Board of Trustees.

Iwokrama’s mandate is to “promote the conservation and the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rainforests in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general.” In short, according to the Centre, it has the task to test the proposition that conservation, environmental balance and sustainable economic activity are mutually reinforcing – that it is possible to use a forest without losing it.

Over the years of its existence, Iwokrama has struggled to find funding sources and to attract investments. In 2007, the then Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Ransford Smith said that he thought Iwokrama would have been financially viable by that point since there are measures like eco-tourism and other sustainable activities that can be undertaken.

He had said that there is need to find a business strategy to allow Iwokrama to provide for its own sustainability since it is not a question of overseas funding, but the utilization of its own resources. Other officials have made similar statements regarding the financial viability of the project.

The latest financial report reveals that the Guyana government remains the Centre’s largest supporter. Total income fell from US$1.9 million in 2012 to US$1.2 million in 2013, a 38% drop mainly as a result of an over 40% drop in grant income. Grant income dropped from US$1.4 million in 2012 to US$836,537 in 2013 with more than half, US$450,000 coming from the Government of Guyana.

Tourism revenues held steady at US$255,690 in 2013 with a decrease of 13% over 2012 figures as, according to the report, the Centre was unable to recruit a dedicated tourism manager.

“We expect tourism to start to deliver better results with the addition of a new dedicated tourism manager who will implement our new tourism business plan,” the report said. Training services also showed a reduction of 40% bringing in US$40,615 in 2013 as against US$67,611 in 2012. “We expect that the renewed interest of many Universities and Environmental Clubs will help these numbers to improve in 2014. The Centre did not record any earnings from sustainable timber activities as the second phase of the timber operations are not expected to start before the third quarter of 2014,” the report said.

Meanwhile, total expenditure also fell in 2013, recording levels of US$1.1 million against US$2.1 million in 2012 — a decrease of approximately 44%. “This decrease was also as a result of the Centre’s austerity programme, which included a reduction in staffing levels and operational expenditure together with a consolidation of activities,” the report said. It noted that the prolonged austerity programme resulted in the loss of a number of key staff and so the Centre had to consider specific increases in emoluments to retain certain key staff. Despite these increases and together with increased transport and other operational costs, the Centre’s management costs decreased from US$99,038 in 2012 to US$97,051 in 2013, the report said.

Overall, it said, the Centre improved its financial position from a deficit of US$189, 989 in 2012 to a small surplus of US$23,035 in 2013.

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