Vaitarna peppered with questions over proposed Rupununi logging

The operations of start-up logging company, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc. (VHPI) will have to be in line with forest conservation strategies, says Deputy Commissioner of Forests Tashreef Khan and many questions were asked of the Indian company on Thursday in the Rupununi.

The company wants to start logging in the concession it took over from Simon and Shock Inc and has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for authorization to commence. The EPA held a public scoping meeting in Annai, Region Nine on Thursday and residents as well as representatives from conservation organizations active in the bio-diversity rich area raised several issues. The meeting is part of the process of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) which is required before the operation can be approved.

As several questions, including about the impact on livelihoods and the environment from the operations were raised, Director of Vaitarna Chetan Narayan assured the meeting that as plans progress, the company will consult with villagers. He pointed out that Vaitarna is the newest division of parent company, Coffee Day Limited of India, but said he could not say much at this point in time as regards proposals for operations since the process was in the early stages.

In this composite, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc.’s Chetan Narayan is seen addressing a section of the gathering at the public scoping meeting at Annai on Thursday. (See page 10)

He said that once the procedures are completed, then the company would decide what type of business they will get into. “One or two sawmills definitely is a must,” said Narayan, in his brief presentation. He told residents that the 25-year project will create a lot of employment and priority will be given to villagers for jobs. He pledged that the company would work transparently with the community. He stressed that it was early days yet and he could not pronounce definitively on the company’s plans.

Sydney Allicock, Chairman of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), said that he was happy at the efforts to get the project started right, while stating that what he heard was very encouraging. He, however, questioned whether there was a proper waste management system in place, the impact of the road that would be built and efforts to minimize degradation of the land.

Conservation International (CI) Director Dr. David Singh pointed out that there is no state land available between Annai and Vaitarna’s concession and said that any consideration of the road cannot be done until the communities are partners in the process. Dr Singh, who visited the various villages before the scoping meeting, pointed out that persons have different views on the projects and advised that the company speak with these communities as soon as possible to know the “conflict issues” first hand.

In addition, the conservationist questioned whether the company’s business model is going to take into consideration Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) as well as REDD+. He also raised the issue of land-use conflicts as well as integrated management of natural resources. He pointed out that the project will open access to an intact part of Guyana’s forest and roads become a public asset and control could therefore become an issue. How are the roads and access-ways going to be managed? Singh asked.

Dr. Singh also asked whether the company is interested in forest certification. He pointed out as well that the company should clarify the relationship between the three companies: Simon and Shock, Vaitarna and Dark Forest as these have been commented upon. He also asked about the management structure for the company.

Newest division

Narayan said that logging is the newest division of Coffee Day but the company has had some experience. He said that Coffee Day has the biggest coffee estate in India: 15,000 acres. These acres, he said, are filled with trees since coffee needs shade to grow. Every three months, there are “pruning activities,” he said, adding that “this gives us a lot of timber” but not to the extent the company will be getting into. He said that the Dark Forest Company processes the logs and makes furniture exclusively for the coffee chain because their internal requirements are very large. “We have logging experience, we have manufacturing experience…but then not to this scale,” he said.

Several other persons raised other issues. Toshao of Annai Michael Williams asked whether it was possible that persons from the community work along with the ESIA team and learn. They want someone to be a part of the ESIA team if possible, he said.

Glendon Allicock of Surama said that they want a written agreement with regards to employment as they have had some setbacks in the past with regards to this. Narayan, in response, pointed out that there are lots of statutory regulations that cover these issues but said that “we can look at that.” He said that once someone joins the company, they will be trained. It is “too early to decide who’s doing what,” he said.

Patricia Fredericks, of the Bina Hill Institute, asked what is the company’s policy with regards to capacity building and he queried whether the company can invest in scholarships. Narayan said that they will work closely with the communities.  Toshao of Apoteri Clement Joseph pointed out that CI’s conservation concession is surrounded by logging concessions and asked what will be the impact on the conservation concession when operations start.

Narayan said that right now they only have an exploratory permit and by August, they will receive the forest inventory and decide what size of business they are doing based on this. He said that when that plan is being drawn, they will approach CI. “We cannot work independently,” he noted while adding that it was too early to give a practicable plan. He stressed that they would take input from community members.

With regards to a question raised about the sawmill, Head of the EPA team, Geeta Devi Singh, said that the company is looking at where it would be located. If it is to be located outside of the company’s concession, it has to be approved independently by the EPA, she said. If the company wants to locate the sawmill in Annai, they will have get a no-objection from the community, she added. “At this stage a lot of it is determining what actually will be done,” said Singh, adding that at this stage not everything is fully known.

Khan said that the road must be considered in parallel with the ESIA and before the end of the ESIA if the communities approve.  He said that the project will have to be in line with the LCDS and REDD+ and take into consideration the proximity of CI’s conservation concession as well. There are several other issues which have to be taken into consideration such as deforestation rates, he said pointing out that they have to ensure that deforestation rates are kept to the lowest level.

Vaitarna’s concession is in the biodiversity-rich area surrounding the Iwokrama rainforest preserve. It is south of the Sherwood Forests Inc.’s concession and east, west, and south of the CI concession.

According to the project summary, the company plans to establish a composite logging and sawmilling operation with associated downstream processing plants and kiln drying facility. Housing for employees with electricity and potable water supply and other auxiliary facilities will be provided in order to realize the goals of the main beneficiaries and the vision of the company. The project will be solely financed and managed by Dark Forest Company (S) Pte Ltd (DFCPL), with a proposed total investment of US$18.7M during the first five years stated as 2010 to 2015.

The summary says that during the pre-harvest phase of the operation, employment by the company is expected to be in the vicinity of 45 personnel. However, this figure will be increased to 321 persons once harvesting and processing activities commences. The life of the project is 25 years.

The company said that processing operations are planned to be located at or near Annai. Initially, the company will use portable mills to process logs into lumber until a stationary sawmill is established. The sawn lumber will be transported from Annai to Linden. Then from Linden, lumber will be shipped out to India for further processing. The bulk of the production, initially, will be exported to India, other Asian countries and Caribbean markets, the summary says.

Vaitarna also secured Caribbean Resources Limited’s Timber Sales Agreement for $600M, which means it now has control over 1.82M acres of forest.

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