North Rupununi communities ready to ‘opt in’ to forests payment scheme

From Stabroek News 3 October, 2014

Armed with information about the natural resources of the area, north Rupununi communities are calling on government to support a project to continue monitoring their communities’ resources and tackle the “clear and present danger” from encroaching threats such as logging and mining.

“I think they are more than ready now to implement REDD in their own lands,” said Luis Meneses, the Latin American director of Global Canopy Programme, referring to the United Nations-backed scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

At a press conference yesterday, representatives of the communities emphasised their readiness to become the first indigenous communities to ‘opt-in’ to the Guyana-Norway agreement and receive payments for protecting their forests.

Over the past two and a half years, the 16 communities of the north Rupununi have been implementing the first Community Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (CMRV) project in Guyana, which, among other activities, gathered data on the natural resources of the area as well as the social well-being of the people and quantified the amount of carbon in the biomass of the communities.

The CMRV programme wrapped on September 30 with the presentation and discussion of a comprehensive monitoring report of the resources and social well-being of all 16 villages in the North Rupununi. Vanda Radzik, the advisor to the CMRV, said that over 50 Amerindians—mostly youth–from the 16 villages of the North Rupununi were trained in new technologies using smartphones as tools for data collection and monitoring. She said that local knowledge practitioners such as the Makushi Research Unit were also involved and the linkage between traditional knowledge and skills and digital devices and systems were blended to produce an enhanced method for data collection and reporting. These local monitors are now considered local community scientists.

Among the highlights of the CMRV, Radzik said, are the development of a Community Monitoring Framework covering essential indicators for local, national and international levels, while more than 6,000 forms were collected by local monitors on hunting and fishing, wildlife and water, farming and road impacts and social wellbeing and were turned into village reports and reports to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC).

In addition, she said, forest carbon stocks were measured in the community-owned forests and the project supported the GFC with ground-truthing and verification of the 2010 satellite imagery on deforestation and forest cover in North Rupununi, and digitized and scaled community resource maps were produced for each of the 16 communities.

 Take the lead

Radzik noted that from the inception, the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) representing the 16 communities indicated its commitment to piloting the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) “Opt ln” Mechanism for the voluntary inclusion of Amerindians and their community-owned forests. “The North Rupununi is now more ready than ever to take up this challenge with the successful completion of this phase of the CMRV programme. The Executive of the National Toshaos’ Council has engaged with the CMRV and witnessed first-hand in the field the capacities built and the readiness for NRDDB to take a lead in this now,” she asserted.

Michael Williams, the Chairman of the NRDDB board, said that as the project wraps up, the Board wants government to step-up and provide support.

Dr Raquel Thomas-Caesar, the Director of Resource Management and Training at Iwokrama, pointed to the vulnerability of the North Rupununi wetlands to activities such as logging, large-scale farming and mining. She said that the communities are now empowered and armed with the information they now possess, they can make decisions in their interests.

Radzik also recalled the push by the NRDDB a decade ago to have the North Rupununi wetlands recognised under the Ramsar Convention, which is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. She said that the wetlands are currently facing a “clear and present danger” and called for a renewed push to have the area recognised under the Convention. “The developmental initiatives are pressing right up,” she said.

 Not easy

Participants in the CMRV also spoke briefly on their experiences. Susan George said that covering the miles and miles to do their work was not easy. “We are ready to continue to manage our resources,” she added.

“We want to be the first people to measure our trees, our biodiversity, our ecosystems because we depend on our natural resources,” Norbert Saulty said. He noted the threats faced by the communities as he said that companies are on their boundaries. “If they deplete all our forest resources, what can we depend on,” he questioned.

The Chinese logging company Baishanlin as well as the Indian logging company Vaitarna have concessions in the area. Baishanlin, according to one presenter, encroaches on the traditional lands of Apoteri. They want to have the wetlands recognised so they can feel secure, project manager Bryan Allicock said.

Williams told Stabroek News that based on the data gathered, the 16 communities are making rules on management of their resources in order to utilise them sustainably. He said that when village leaders convene later this month, they will be lobbying for support for the project. He noted that the National Toshaos Council has requested that the NRDDB replicate the project in other communities.

Apart from the NRDDB, the CMRV programme was implemented along with lwokrama and the Global Canopy Programme. It was funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. A Memorandum of Cooperation was also signed with the GFC which provided technical and financial support to the CMRV from the LCDS.