Toshaos urge better international forest conservation framework

Toshaos at the conclusion of the National Toshaos Conference yesterday supported a resolution that urged the international community to create a framework to ensure that forest conservation efforts are adequately rewarded.

From a benab in the isolated rainforest community of Masakenari, in the heart of the Wai-Wai nation, to a conference in Argentina and finally to the Wai-Wai built Umana Yana in Georgetown, the Community Owned Conser-vation Area (COCA) was again re-launched last evening this time in the presence of President Bharrat Jagdeo, other government officials, Conservation International (CI) representatives, the Chairman of Region Nine (where the area is located), Clarindo Lucas and Toshaos from all over the country. It was described as the conclusion of one phase and the beginning of another.

Jagdeo, in his feature address said that the event was not just a single act of conservation, but an engagement in the process of empowerment. Expressing his support for the Wai-Wai’s decision, the president said that this is in no way suggesting that the other communities go this route. “You can make your own decisions what to do with the land that you own”, he assured the toshaos. Jagdeo however asserted that Guyana’s conservation efforts do not mean that the country should be “locked away as museum pieces for the rest of the world”. “We are not a museum piece”, he declared stating that there should be benefits for protecting the bio-diversity. Noting the experience of other areas where new discoveries had led to patents being taken out and which benefitted persons other than the community, the president assured the gathering that the local people will benefit. He however said that help is needed and noted the toshaos’ support of the resolution. Jagdeo stated that developing countries such as Guyana are not major producers of greenhouse gases but the developed states are and he condemned those nations for continuing to pollute and not committing to a reduction of their emissions.

“We bear more of the burden of saving the world than the rich countries and that should change”, he declared adding that this will be the future mantra of his government. He said that while Guyana was prepared to play its part in saving the world, the country should be rewarded for this.

During the opening ceremony for this month’s Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting, President Jagdeo announced that he has offered almost the entire local rainforest in the fight against climate change. No details have since been provided on this proposal.

The Head of State yesterday further committed to lobbying for changes to the Kyoto Protocol so that states like Guyana would benefit for their conservation efforts. “We have to change the Kyoto Protocol so that in the future there will be a framework which ensures that countries like ours are rewarded”, he said. He called on the toshaos, agencies like CI and others to support the call for “major enhancement in the fight against global warming”. He committed his government’s support in continuing to work with the community. “We want this to be successful so that eventually it will become a model for other areas and other countries”, he stated.

Barama

Jagdeo also stressed that if companies like Barama cannot follow rules then they will have to leave. He asserted that Guyana was quite capable of managing its forest and “no foreign group will come and tell us how to manage our forest”. “All their public relations and protests will not work”, he declared. Barama was this week slapped with $96M in fines for breaches of forestry regulations.

Amerindian Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues, in expressing her happiness noted that it was the third launching of the COCA with the first being in Masakenari and the second in Argentina. She stated that at the launching in the Spanish-speaking South American country, “many were pleased with Guyana”. “It is the end of one process and the beginning of another”, she said.

Rodrigues came in for praise from deputy toshao of Kanashen, Paul Chekema who declared that “she is doing so well for us”. In recalling the road to the establishment of the protected area he stressed the support of the government and CI. Chekema said that what is needed now is the knowledge of how to make the project pay financially. “I hope we will get soon a trust fund”, he added. Meanwhile toshao of the community Cemci Suse stated that the area will have to be part of the National System of Protected Areas.

“They have lived conservation, they know climate change”, asserted Major General (Ret’d.) Joseph Singh, a member of CI’s Board. He stated that the Wai-Wai’s will prove to all that they are worthy stewards of the eco-system. CI’s Guianas Program Vice-President Lisa Famolare added that the agency’s work in Guyana was outstanding and commended the government and the Wai-Wai nation as “true global leaders” of conservation.

The COCA commits an area of forest approximately 625,000 hectares (just over a million acres), held by the Wai-Wais in southern Guyana for conservation purposes. Residents will manage the area in accordance with rules which they have drafted and for which approval will be given by Rodrigues under the Amerindian Act. The rules will allow the residents of the community to utilize the resources in a sustainable manner. The 625,000 hectares of titled land is the largest plot held by any indigenous group in Guyana with just about 205 persons residing in the community.

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