A new project designed to integrate indigenous traditional knowledge into a national environmental conservation policy was launched on Monday evening as part of efforts to protect Guyana’s biodiversity and alleviate poverty among the Indigenous peoples.
The “Integrating Traditional Practice into National Policy in Guyana” project is being undertaken by the Darwin Initiative, which was launched in 1992 to fund projects that help countries rich in biodiversity to meet objectives as it relates to environmental conservation and poverty reduction.
The project is expected to last a period of 3 years, 9 months, with funding that totals £400,000. The areas of focus for the project will be Indigenous communities living in and around Guyana’s five protected areas that hold biodiversity of global significance and critically endangered species: the Kanuku Mountains, Shell Beach, Kaieteur National Park, Iwokrama Forest, and the Konashen Community-owned Conservation Area.
The project is also intended to facilitate and evaluate dialogue between decision-makers and local communities on how traditional knowledge can inform the management of these protected areas, as well as wider environmental and development strategies and policies.
This will be done through evaluating the opportunities and barriers to traditional knowledge integration using case studies focused on protected areas management; streamlining a participatory cross-scalar process to incorporate local traditional knowledge at the national scale; and developing a National Action Plan for Traditional Knowledge that can be used as a model of best practice for other countries of the Guiana Shield and worldwide.
It was also noted at the launch that Guyana’s progress, due to its valuable biodiversity, will help determine global progress with Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 – incorporating traditional knowledge into national legislation and relevant international obligations.
Partners of the project include the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, the Environ-mental Protection Agency, the North Rupununi District Development Board, South Central Peoples Development Organisation, Royal Holloway University of London, UN Environment – World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and the COBRA Collective.
Delivering the keynote message at the event was Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock, who said that without proper and approved recorded documentation, traditional knowledge, which is very significant to the Indigenous people, will be lost. As a result, he noted that the need for a national plan to preserve is imperative and it was his hope that this is what will come out of the project. “Integrating traditional practice into national policy in Guyana means a lot to my government and our Indigenous peoples. Indigenous people have an important connection to land and biodiversity and we see it as an opportune time to come together to protect this knowledge and once and for all to have such a policy like the National Action Plan for Traditional Knowledge for Guyana,” he added.
Allicock further noted that with the knowledge gained from the project, those in charge will be used to making decisions to protect the history, land, forest, biodiversity, culture and sustainable livelihood of the 215 indigenous communities across Guyana. “We will work as a team with the communities and the Indigenous peoples to gather and learn from one another… we will use this knowledge to make decisions and this knowledge can be used by all of us to protect our history, forests, land, biodiversity, our culture and sustainable livelihood,” he added.
Meanwhile, project leader Dr. Jay Mistry, in offering an overview, explained that the project, which began in July, will take a three-fold approach as it aims to implement traditional knowledge integration, conduct institutional capacity building at community and national levels and develop the National Action Plan for Traditional Knowledge.
The project will use a video method similar to that of the COBRA [Community Owned Best Resource Adaptive] project, which was undertaken between 2011 and 2015 to investigate and research in communities on traditional knowledge.
“There are also other conventions on biological diversity obligations for traditional knowledge and Indigenous people. So, we hope we can also contribute to some of those obligations…we hope that we can look at how specific issues to do with Indigenous people can be worked on in this project and we’ll be working with other partners in Guyana to contribute to Guyana’s green state strategy…,” Mistry added.
Also offering brief remarks were Commissioner of the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) Denise Fraser and Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Kemraj Parsram, who both lauded the introduction of the project and indicated their interests in seeing the information that it will yield.
“The PAC welcomes this project which comes at an opportune time when it is implementing its management plans and striving to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous communities and PAC and promoting sustainable use of Guyana’s resources,” Fraser said.
“The EPA welcomes this initiative and it has a high interest in the information it will generate to inform national and international policy. This would no doubt lead to stronger and practical strategies to conserve biodiversity and the environment of Guyana,” Parsram posited.
“The EPA is committed to the intended collaboration with its sector agencies in meeting its mandate through this project and will certainly do its fair share in ensuring the successful completion of the project and we look forward to policies that would be developed from this project,” he added.
Meanwhile, British High Commissioner to Guyana Greg Quinn, in giving a brief history of the Darwin Initiative, explained that it was launched by the United Kingdom (UK) government at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 with funding from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“Since the start of the initiative in 1992, a total of 1,055 projects have taken place in 159 countries. These have a total cost of about $37.1 billion. In that period, there have been a total of eight projects in Guyana at a cost of about $371 million,” Quinn explained.
Some of these projects include the Greenheart Initiative in 1994, Influence of Selective Logging in 1995, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development of Butterfly Production from 2006 to 2009 and most recently supporting Indigenous and local organisations to implement part of the Convention on Biological Diversity from 2010 to 2013.