Dr. Janaki Alavalapati Works to Promote Sustainable Forestry and Land Use in Guyana

Dr. Janaki Alavalapati, Professor and Head of Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, College of Natural Resources and Environment, Virginia Tech

I spent Aug. 11 to 19 in Guyana working with interface representatives of government, non-governmental agencies, local communities, academic community, and the private sector and to identify key issues to promote sustainable forestry and land use. Both the Partners of the Americas and the U.S. Embassy in Guyana helped to sponsor this trip.

Guyana holds onto a beautiful and bountiful forest landscape, commits to conserve forest biodiversity.

With 18.3 million hectares, Guyana’s forested landscapes cover 87 percent of the nation’s land resource. These forests provide home to approximately 8,000 plan species and over 1,000 species of terrestrial vertebrates. These forests also provide livelihood to many Amerindian communities across the country and offer a variety of environmental services such as regulation of water regimes, limiting soil erosion and mitigating climate change.

ith the forest as such a critical part of Guyana’s landscape, much of the land is utilized for forestry, mining and agriculture. The industry has grown expansively over the last few decades. Guyana’s forests annually supply over 2 million cubic meters of timbers per year and contribute to approximately 4 percent of Guyana’s GDP and over 20,000 direct jobs.

Guyana’s successful forest protection models can inspire others.

With such an expansive forest it was impeccable that Guyana create strict sustainability guidelines. In many ways, Guyana has seen much success. Guyana is known for its lowest rates (about 0.1 percent) of deforestation and degradation in the world. Below are a few of the policies they have implemented.

Commercial timber harvest from public forests is administered through concession agreements. In order to combat over use of the forest, concessions in excess of 8,000 hectares are required to conduct an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Plan (ESIA), a Forestry Management Plan and a Forestry Inventory prior to issuance.

Guyana has a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT). This agreement ensures that the benefits from forest resources utilization flow to the right beneficiaries, preventing unfair competition between illegal and legal produce, maintains a low rate of deforestation and degradation, ensures sustainable development of forest dependent communities, and mitigates climate change. This has been helping Guyana to better market their forest products in European market.

Under United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, Guyana partnered with Norway to show the world that low carbon, low deforestation and climate resilient development is possible for forested countries. In this partnership, Norway would pay Guyana for forest climate services up to US $250 million by 2015. To date Guyana has earned US $115 million in payments for climate services. 

In 1989, Guyana collaborated with the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish theIwokrama International Center for Rainforest Conservation and Development which is located in Central Guyana with 317,000 hectares of forests. The goal is to utilize it as a living laboratory for sustainable forest management, eco-tourism and short and long-term scientific research. In particular, the center wanted to demonstrate to the world that timber harvesting and other uses of forests can be very much part of sustainable forestry and land use. Currently the center is facing major financial problems due to a tough financial climate and related decreasing donor support. This issue can be solved in two ways: 

First, offering data collection and monitoring service at lower cost to needy institutions. It is critical to figure out if such demand exists. 

Second, harvesting more timber by adopting the best practices and producing more value added products for CARRICOM markets. These two activities are very consistent with the objective of showing the world that working forests are sustainable. 

Identifying the issues Guyana faces during his trip.

The focus of my trip was centered on the key barriers and opportunities for strengthening the Guyana’s forestry sector for the benefit of economy and environment. I discovered some measures which need to be taken in order to continue Guyana’s history of preserving their forests.

First, Guyana needs to understand more of lesser used species (timber and non-timber). Guyana Forestry CommissionGuyana Forest Products Association, andAmerindian People’s Association expressed a lot of interest to find out more of their lesser utilized wood species with a hope to increase their merchantable timber volumes on a per unit area.

Along with this, what the forest is currently producing needs to be increased in value. Currently logs constitute the majority of forest products exports. Increasing value added activities such as veneer production and furniture would be beneficial for the economy and employment. However, high energy prices, limited availability of skilled labor, high capital costs, and low access to financial institutions are the major challenges to move forward.

The local Amerindian community also deserves a more competitive edge in the logging industry. By working with FAO and local NGOs, capacity building activities (technical, financial, and organizational related) can be undertaken. 

Along with this, Guyana needs to work to create capacity building opportunities for selected students, faculty, government officials, and Amerindian community members relating to sustainable forestry. Academic institutions in the U.S., Canada, and Europe can assist Guyanese students, faculty, and other members through workshops, short courses, long-term studies, and exchange programs. For example, if Guyanese are interested, the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech can offer a workshop or a short course on advanced geospatial, monitoring and forecasting techniques to interested groups.

Conversations with Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Forest Product Association, and Amerindian Peoples Association suggest that there are conflicts between timber and mining activities.

Exploring opportunities to reclaim mine lands and reforest them with economically valuable tree species would improve the environment and economy in Guyana. However, limited technical capacity on reclamation and reforestation and limited financial resources are the major constraints to address the issue. Several best practices and success stories on reclamation and reforestation exist. 

More effective coordination between timber and mining activities is necessary to solve the problems Guyana faces. In order to overcome financial constraints, following the Forest Development Corporation model in India, setting up a “Reclamation and Reforestation Corporation” within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment might help in two ways:

  • First, this would provide an opportunity to borrow money from financial institutions such as the World Bank. 
  • Second, since Guyana Forestry Commission and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission reside within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the proposed corporation can coordinate its activities more effectively. 

With the help of Indian High Commissioner in Guyana, it may be possible to invite an expert from the Forest Development Corporation and learn more about the corporation set up. Furthermore, stakeholder discussions suggested that there were a few attempts to reclaim mine lands with Acacia and other species.

A comprehensive reclamation and reforestation plan with details about species suitability, silvicultural techniques, and marketing details would help to move Guyana forward in this regard.

More updates on Dr. Janaki Alavalapati and other Senior ECPA Fellows can be found on the website or their Facebook page. Dr. Janaki Alavalapati has been mentioned twice in national news in Guyana; in the Kaieteur News and the Guyana Times.