A World Bank team – here to discuss a forest conservation strategy with Amerindian forest communities – has cleared the way for a S$200,000 seed grant to support information sharing activities but has expressed concern about mining activities in the Kamarang area.

The team journeyed to communities in Regions Seven and Nine and dubbed the visit a success at a joint press briefing with President Bharrat Jagdeo at the Office of the President yesterday. “I think it was a great experience because we went down on the ground, met with the communities, we saw the people, we could speak to them, we heard their concerns and most of all I think…we all embraced one common message that this is a good programme for Guyana, is a good programme for climate change”, said Giorgio Valentini, the World Bank Country Representative for Guyana.

The team, which consisted of members of NGOs, donor community representatives and government officials visited Iwokrama, Nappi and Kamarang over the past week to discuss Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) with Amerindians. With Guyana participating in the Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) – created in 2007 as a mechanism to support country readiness for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD); the visit is part of the due diligence required by the World Bank before it disburses money to Guyana to finance the REDD design phase.

The team’s mission also encompasses determining whether Guyana is sufficiently ready to initiate an active phase of preparation that would enable it to receive financial incentives from the international community to reduce deforestation.  Guyana is the first country under the FCPF, where due diligence is being undertaken though there are still a number of steps that have to be completed before any money is seen.

While commending the process, the mission’s team leader, Laurent Debroux noted that a number of concerns had been raised. He revealed that these include the people’s desire to be fully involved in consultations and to receive full information well in advance so that they can be properly equipped to meaningfully participate in consultations. Additionally, issues regarding how future, potential revenues from REDD will be shared were raised while there were questions about land tenure, whether subsistence activities will be modified by REDD strategies, and the need to ensure that the process follows good international practices and safeguards from a social and environmental point of view, he said.
Debroux revealed too that the communities have requested that a seed grant be made available to support technical studies, information sharing and raising awareness. This was approved and the US$200,000 grant will hopefully be allocated in the next two weeks and the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the National Toshaos Council will take the lead in executing the activities.

Some members of the team spent a few days in the communities and were able to visit the surrounding areas. An area of concern is mining around Kamarang in Region Seven, Zeze Weiss, a member of the World Bank team told Stabroek News. “We were concerned and informed our managers. However, we are in no position at this point to discuss it with the local mining authority”, she said, speaking with this newspaper following the press conference. The team hopes to meet with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Debroux added.

“We also look forward to coordination between the agencies involved. Not only the mining, but also the land, forest and others that are involved in these REDD efforts”, he said while noting that on one hand, a REDD strategy is a multi-sector undertaking and there will be a need for coordination among the various agencies involved. “On the other hand the mandate of our work here with Guyana is on forest carbon and it is not possible to address all the main issues that you can see in the field. It is important that we stay in the mandate that was given to us”, he said.

Meantime, in responding to some of the community concerns listed, Jagdeo said that quite a few of the issues were dealt with but acknowledged the need to continue consultations. On the need for more information, he noted that three NGO’s were given money to undertake supplementary consultations apart from the ones done by the LCDS secretariat and over 900 persons had attended those meetings.

A few steps still need to be completed as Guyana moves to implement its Readiness Plan and Debroux stated that work is underway under the leadership of the GFC to receive some feedback from key stakeholders. “Another step will be to finalize a potential reference for a safeguard instrument that is required under World Bank policies which we call a strategic environmental and social assessment, then I think that based on the findings of this field trips, we will sit again with the forestry commission, with other government agencies and try to see what are the other steps that need to be done”, he commented. The team leader emphasized that Guyana is in a good position to go to climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December and share a “very positive and powerful message about their (Guyana) ambitions and their initiatives, about why they are taking advantage of this opportunity”.

Questioned about whether Guyana has the human and other resources to adequately monitor its forest, Debroux responded that this is a new initiative and no country or institution can claim that they hold the human resources needed to enter this. He said that training and capacity building will be needed, including at the World Bank.

But Jagdeo said that he has no fear about the local capacity to do monitoring. He declared that Guyana has some of the best forestry practices in the world and this is why the forest remains intact. The president revealed that in a few weeks time, a tender for a detailed monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system will go out. He noted that such a system is an integral part of the LCDS. “We expect that over the next two years, we’ll develop that system. It will involve a whole range, using technology to monitor the forest too but I feel that we have the capacity here”, he asserted.

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