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1 May 2006

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Guyana

Forest restoration important in Guyana

Guyana: Why Forest Landscape Restoration matters to a country with only 1% rate of deforestation.

Located on the northern edge of South America, bordered by Suriname, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Atlantic Ocean, lays a small but vibrant country with a wealth of culture, biodiversity and opportunity. During the week of 13-17 March 2006, representatives from Guyanese government departments, civil society and indigenous peoples' organizations met in the capital city, Georgetown, with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the International Tropical Timber Organization at a national workshop on Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR). The workshop introduced the concept of FLR with the intention of better understanding how it may be applied in the Guyana context.

The workshop revealed that much has been done to ensure sustainable forest management in Guyana already, such as forest legislation, a draft national forest plan, code of practice for forest operations, guidelines for forest inventories, forest management plans and annual operational plans to name some examples. The Guyana Forestry Commission is responsible for state forest resources including: forest resource allocation, log tagging and product documentation system, routine and random monitoring, extension, marketing and information services, education and training, a social development program, national inventory and continuous review of their policy and services. In addition, Guyana will soon be home to the largest tract of primary forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) at 500,000+ hectares.

With all this in place and only a 1% rate of deforestation, why should Guyana pay attention to restoration?

Guyana, otherwise known as the 'land of waters', boasts the longest single drop waterfall in the world (Kaieteur Falls, 741 feet), a profusion of birdlife including the world's most powerful raptor, the Harpy Eagle, and 785 other known bird species as well as 87% forest coverage. Beneath the countries' abundant forests, rest minerals such as bauxite, gold and diamonds. Guyana's distinct geopolitical setting and abundance of natural resources make it a prime candidate for resource extraction. Though not too well-known yet, demand for Guyana's resources is expected to increase with globalization.

Along with the sustainable forest management plans currently in place, the workshop revealed a host of threats to Guyana's forests. Some examples in the long list generated by workshop participants included illegal logging, forest degradation, over-harvesting of select species, poor community based forest management activities, population growth, limited value-added processes and outdated forest legislation. In addition, boundary disputes were highlighted as a key threat. For example, mining takes precedence in cases of overlapping resources such as timber and minerals.

Furthermore, areas outside of official state forests lands do not have to follow the same guidelines as those regulated by the Guyana Forestry Commission. Thus, private lands and those areas which border forests such as savannas and mountains do not offer concrete promises of sustainable land management. Lastly, as found in many countries, a lack of collaborative effort between government agencies as well as between diverse stakeholders was acknowledged. Forest landscape restoration (FLR) offers a framework to overcome some of these challenges.

Simply put, forest landscape restoration (FLR) brings people together to identify, negotiate and put in place practices that restore an optimal balance of environmental, social and economic benefits from forests and trees within a broader pattern of land uses. It looks to manage and restore forests at a landscape level, recognizing that even where landscapes have been modified and degraded, forests and trees can still make an important contribution to community livelihoods and environmental services. FLR is a practical approach. It does not try to re-establish the pristine forests of the past and goes beyond a single goal such as planting trees. Rather, the approach tries to find innovative ways to manage the land. Benefits such as clean water, timber production and nature conservation are the results.

A field trip to degraded areas near Georgetown demonstrated the real potential for FLR in Guyana. Participants visited a mined out area from bauxite surrounded by forests and farms. The bare sand and clay faces, left much for the imagination in terms of reclamation and rehabilitation. Moreover, learning about the successes for regeneration on degraded lands in the Guyana Forestry Commissions' experimental plots helped indicate that possibilities exist for introducing economically viable species in areas that need rehabilitation and restoration. For the people living in the landscape visited, this could be a welcome addition to their current dependency on a single, non-renewable resource.

The workshop brought stakeholders together including those from remote regions of the country who clearly depend on forests for their immediate livelihood needs. One participant poetically referred to the forest as his communities' supermarket while another was keen to explore options for value-added production in order to sustain the resource over the long-term. These folks are experiencing the impacts of degraded forest lands surrounding their communities and villages.

The mix of people, while diverse in terms of their needs, were all aware of the demographic shifts putting stress on particular landscapes due to infrastructure development as well as environmental threats such as climate change, which is encouraging people to leave the coast and head deeper into the forests. Whether for work or daily sustenance, it was clear that most Guyanese depend on forest resources in some way. This dependence led to much sharing and learning about FLR and its potential in Guyana.

Though next to its larger Amazonian neighbours Guyana may not appear to be an area for forest conservation concern, increasing demand for timber is driving consumer countries to seek wood even in those small countries where forests have been relatively well conserved. With over 20,000 people directly depending on forests and the 2nd largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs in Latin and South America after Ecuador, Guyana has much experience to share in sustainable forest management. Forest landscape restoration is an approach which ties together many of the practices currently being implemented at the site level and can help reduce conflicts which arise across the larger resource rich landscape. After one week of intense study regarding the potential for FLR in Guyana, it is clear that a lot of enthusiasm and ideas have been generated. It is hoped that action plans and proposals will be developed to take FLR from an approach discussed within a conference room to that of action on the ground.

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