IDB Representative urges stakeholders to play robust role in hinterland agri project

-Pirara selected as site for research station, reservoir

Sophie Makonnen

Acknowledging that initial consultations might not have been as robust as they should have been,

IDB Country Representative Sophie Makonnen is urging stakeholders in a hinterland agricultural project to take an active part in the process to find solutions and successfully implement the scheme.

The US$15M Hinter-land Sustainable Agricultural Development Project encompasses a research station and reservoir in Region Nine and questions have been raised about the quality of the consultations on the siting of the reservoir among other issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is funding the project and the 2018 national budget allocated $265 million for it.

In a response to Stabroek News request for comment on a Department of Public Information (DPI) release which quoted Tarachand Balgobin, Head, Project Cycle Management Division, Ministry of Finance as saying at a March 19 consultation on the project at Nappi in Region Nine, that the IDB has classified the project as ‘B’ and “hence the FPIC (free, prior and informed consent) was not a substantive consideration from the inception,” Makonnen said that the project was currently categorised as ‘A’  based on “an assessment of the impacted areas by the IDB’s Environment and Safeguards Unit.”

IDB projects are categorised as A, B, C and Uncategorised according to the scale of the project, location, sensitivity and potential impact. Any operation that is likely to cause significant negative environmental and associated social impacts, or have profound implications affecting natural resources is classified as Category “A” and requires an environmental assessment.

The DPI on April 16 said that after a day-long deliberation held on the preceding weekend in Lethem, all parties decided that the Pirara location was best suited for the project. Manari was first pitched as the site for the project.

The meeting at Lethem that decided on Pirara had been preceded by another on March 19 at Nappi in the Rupununi. At this meeting questions were raised about the quality of consultations by the IDB and the location of the reservoir among other matters. Residents of Nappi had expressed concern that the project site falls within the zone that links the Amazon and Essequibo watersheds during the rainy season and will affect the ecosystem in the area.

According to vice chairman of the National Toshaos Council, Lenox Shuman, the project site also include lands that Nappi Village has been seeking extensions for under the Amerindian Land Titling project.

Makonnen told Stabroek News last week that the main goal of IDB officials taking part in the March 19 meeting was to listen to residents and project beneficiaries. Also present were representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs including Minister Sidney Allicock.

At the meeting, she said, the IDB indicated that it “takes the matter evolving in the Nappi community very seriously and acknowledges that the initial consultations made during the preparation phase of the project were probably not done as robustly as they should have.”

With respect to next steps, she said, “consultations will have to be conducted, thereby allowing for all affected parties to agree on a path forward.”

She said the objective of the project is to increase the productivity of the agricultural sector while maintaining sustainable and climate-resilient use of natural resources in Guyana.

The project, she added, “is intended to strengthen the agricultural innovation and extension system of communities in the Rupununi Savannah by seeking to increase the livelihood conditions for small farmers by increasing the value of these farmers’ agricultural and livestock production.”

Hub

The research station, she said, will serve as a hub for different services of the Ministry of Agriculture as the project will fund a series of projects focused on different agriculture and livestock needs of small farmers.  The research projects include pasture research for improved livestock foraging, improved livestock breeding, introduction of orchard crops, improved annual crop production, and improving soil management. The project will also fund an agricultural extension programme that is expected to reach 2,000 farmers.

In keeping with the IDB’s Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy, Makonnen said, care must be taken that the construction of agricultural stations and the water reservoir will not cause the significant conversion or degradation of areas of intervention.

“As this IDB-funded project may result in adverse impacts to resource use and/or impacts to lands whose rights are currently contested by certain indigenous communities,” Makonnen said, “the way forward will also need to be guided by the IDB’s policies, in consultation with the citizens of the affected communities and the Guyanese Government.”

As part of its periodic supervision of projects under execution, she said, environmental and social safeguards classification of the project may be revised to reflect analysis involving several factors associated with the planned agricultural station and water reservoir.  These factors may include the presence of critical habitats within the project’s area of influence, potential significant residual and cumulative impacts, impacts on indigenous communities and their use of the natural resources of the area, and risk of introduction of invasive species.

IDB funded projects are guided by different sets of policies and guidelines with respect to the environment and indigenous communities.

The IDB’s Indigenous Peoples policy, she said, requires that for every project the IDB funds and which may have potential significant adverse impacts, such as on land, resources and rights, to indigenous communities, the IDB has to obtain agreements regarding the project and its mitigation measures through a good faith negotiation process with the affected communities.

The Rupununi Savannah, she said, is considered a critical natural habitat due to its high biodiversity values, high suitability for biodiversity conservation, its importance to the protection of endangered species and the viability of migratory routes.

Adequate studies, including detailed baseline information, she said, “are necessary to assess the significance of adverse impacts on critical natural habitat and lower impacts should be mitigated, and for impacts that cannot be fully mitigated, compensated, such as through a biodiversity offset.”

In a statement on March 29 commenting on the March 19 meeting, the North Rupununi District Development Board and the Guyana Policy Forum had said that recent calls by North Rupununi communities for adjustments to the IDB-funded programme must be heeded and steps taken to address their concerns.

The statement from the two groups said that “It is encouraging that the IDB has undertaken to provide the residents with more information and has promised greater involvement of residents moving forward. However, it is worrying that it was only when residents passionately spoke up about their concerns at the Nappi meeting that the abovementioned decisions were made. It is noteworthy that since last year, the IDB recognised that consultations done during project preparation were ‘not meaningful’”.

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