The 1.4 million hectares of land, which have reverted to the State Forests Estate after initially being allocated for forestry concessions under the former administration in areas in the south of Guyana, may be considered for protected status, Head of Planning at the Guyana Forestry Commission Pradeepa Bholanauth has hinted.
The lands reclaimed include 680,000 hectares, which had been allocated to the Chinese investor Baishanlin International Forest Development Inc, as well as Simon and Shock Inc, and some 392,000 hectares that had been held by another foreign investor.
Bholanauth told the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Foreign Relations on August 3rd, that the reclaimed hectares may be considered for protected status.
In a presentation on Guyana’s National Determined Contributions (NDCs) that reflect Government’s forest sector commitments, she said the Contributions were categorised in unconditional commitments to be met from existing resources and capacities, and conditional commitments that will be supported by new resources, such as from donors, the Green Climate Fund or other multilateral financing agencies.
Included in the unconditional commitments, she said, were improved sustainable forest management and compliance with the code of practice for forest operations, which is provided for in the Forest Act. The code and forest regulations, she said, had been tabled in the National Assembly at the end of June but this was disputed by the Committee’s chairperson Gail Teixeira, who said the code and regulations were not tabled but were published in the Official Gazette of June, a copy of which she has seen.
The unconditional commitment to support and strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ participation in forest sector development through the Community Forestry Initiative, Bholanauth said, has seen over half a million hectares of land allocated directly to communities, including Indigenous Peoples’ communities.
“We continue to see Indigenous Peoples benefit from titled lands allocation and state forest allocation,” she said.
“The intention is to allow for equal participation and the level of inclusion and involvement that otherwise would not have been the case had we not had direct allocation to Indigenous communities,” she added.
The GFC believes, she said, that titled lands should not be the only allocation that Indigenous Peoples should be able to take advantage of but that they should be allocated State Forests that are within geographic proximity to their communities, and which might not yet be titled but will at some point in time.
“Allocating these areas upfront from the State Forests Estate is going to bring early benefits,” she said.
The Indigenous communities of Batavia in Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) and Riversview in Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Essequibo) were previously allocated State Forests lands, which eventually became titled lands, she said.
The two main pillars in the conditional commitments, Bholanauth said, were avoided deforestation and an emissions reduction programme for forests. The term “avoided deforestation,” she said, first became a part of the GFC’s language with the signing of the Guyana-Norway agreement and the low carbon development strategy in 2009.
Since the first assessments of deforestation in keeping with the European Union’s monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) regulations, Bholanauth said, “the rate of gross deforestation has always been below 0.1 percent.” Deforestation above 0.1 percent, she noted, would result in the loss of funding.
In 2009 when the first MRV reporting started, to 2016, she said, the rate of deforestation has fluctuated between 0.05 percent and 0.09 percent, with the peak year being 2012, when the price of gold was the highest (at about US$2,100 an ounce).
The 2017 deforestation figures, she said, will be released in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Bholanauth said that in order to boost local value-added forestry products, Guyana was successful in gaining CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development approval in November 2017 for an increase in tariffs for the import of pine lumber. This already has positive impacts on the increase level of demand for local timber products, she pointed out. “This is one of the areas that we will continue to monitor over the next two years,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Committee also heard that other conservation areas under local government instruments and not only standing forests could potentially make up the two million hectares of forests President David Granger had committed in 2016 to the global Emissions Reduction Programme (ERP).
Protected Areas Commission (PAC) Deputy Commissioner Odacy Davis said conservancies being managed under a framework and providing eco-management services, and Amerindian communities that would like their entire titled land or part of it or a protected area under the Amerindian Act could also be part of the National Protected Areas System (NPAS).
She made the comments in response to Teixeira, who asked where Guyana will find the forests to conserve after Davis had made a presentation on Guyana’s commitment of two million hectares for conservation.
Conservation areas do not necessarily mean that they must be declared nationally protected areas, she said.
“Looking for protected areas is not just about standing trees. We are looking for representativeness. In our protected area system now, we do not have any wetlands represented. The North Rupununi wetlands, which [are] being pushed by the people of the North Rupununi, is a potential area that would be high in ranking because it is not a part of the system as yet,” she noted.
The intermediate savannahs have unique species and unique eco-systems, which need to be considered as the country looks for areas to conserve.
The PAC, she said, is seeking to reduce conflicts as well. Noting that the Kaieteur National Park is sitting “on a pot of gold and diamond,” she said, “You do not want to establish a protected area in the heart of a mining area or mining district.
The commission, she said, is working on a proposed expansion strategy for the protected areas and to meet the hectares that had been committed to the ERP.
“We had a first draft. We had to take that back to the board for consideration. It is now being prepared to be sent to Cabinet for approval. The approval is not to declare the protected area but to say this is what the strategy is proposing and to get approval and feedback on how to proceed,” she added.
The proposed strategy, Davis explained, has identified 10 geographic areas. The addition of Konashen Amerindian Protected Areas (KAPA), she said, added three percent to the NPAS. The KAPA accounts for 650,000 hectares.
While the PAC awaits approval of the strategy, she said, it is working on strengthening the current theme and hiring staff needed and building capacity to deal with an additional 1.5 million hectares to the system as KAPA has already accounted for 650,000 hectares.
There are currently five protected areas in the system and four urban parks. The PAC manages four of the five protected areas, with the lone exception being Iwokrama.
She noted that the commitment is directly linked to Guyana becoming a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for the 2011 to 2020 period, which state that countries should aspire to declaring at least 17 percent of the terrestrial land and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas to conservation. To date, Guyana has already committed 8.5 percent of its land space to the ERP.
Davis said once there is direction on how to proceed, they “will have to do extensive consultations with communities, government agencies, civil society and external donors, among others.” The entire process, which will involve various assessments, development of a management plan and delineation, among other things, cannot be undertaken overnight, she said.
Asked what will Guyana get for the additional two million hectares when it already gave up 371,000 hectares (1.6 per cent of Guyana’s landmass and two per cent of Guyana’s forests), Davis said, “There is positive on both sides.”
She said, “We are talking about climate change, climate agreement, climate financing. We don’t know what the market is going to look like. We don’t know what the agreements are going to look like. It is very possible that having these protected areas as standing forests [they] are going to be worth more than they are right now even with the coming of oil. It is a lot we have to consider.”
Asked by PPP/C MP Nigel Dharamlall if it was not premature of the PAC to advise the President to commit the land given future developments, Davis said, “You are assuming that the PAC advised the President. You are asking me to make a pronouncement which I cannot.”
In terms of development, she said, the proposed model for the Rupununi wetlands is not only to focus on biodiversity conservation but also on sustainable development.
The process that involved declaring the Kanuku Mountains Protected Area considered, among other factors, data from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission which noted that gold and diamonds are found in the area. She said there is recourse for the government to take back the land or excise a part of it should there be need for it for other forms of development.