Empowering communities in Guyana
Nestled in the north-eastern corner of South America, Guyana is a country blessed with spectacular landscapes and rich natural resources.
However, demand for Guyana’s resources is now threatening both the country’s forests and the traditional livelihoods of the indigenous communities that depend on them.
A country of extremes
Although one of the smaller South American states, Guyana contains unique and important ecosystems and biodiversity.
With 85% forest cover, the country has the second highest percentage of rainforest in the world – due to its extremely low population density, poor soils, and limited road network.
In all, there are 18.5 million hectares of forest – 3 million hectares of which belong to Guyana’s 116 titled indigenous communities.
Despite its rich natural resources, Guyana’s is one of the poorest economies in South America.
The growth in the economy over the past decade has come largely due to the high price of gold, which has been mined at a big cost to Guyana’s forests and rivers and the indigenous peoples that have relied on these natural resources for generations.
An agreement between Guyana and Norway pays Guyana to maintain its extremely low deforestation rate below 0.1% annually (with higher payments for lower rates).
In 2014, WWF began working with the Wai Wai community in their remote southern titled area, Kanashen, to help empower Guyana’s titled indigenous communities to benefit from this agreement.
Based on that pioneering two-year project, WWF is currently training 38 community members from the 19 communities of the North Rupununi Wetlands to use cutting-edge software, smartphones and GPS to gather data on forest cover and dozens of other metrics that measure changes in their communities and to the natural resources on which they depend.
These community monitors are learning to gather carbon stock samples, track fish and food supplies, and monitor a series of community well-being measures such as school attendance and a happiness index.
These skills help the communities be better informed as they make decisions about the management of their resources and take action when those resources are threatened.
With Kanashan spanning some 3,850 km2 (3% of Guyana’s land area) and managed exclusively by the Wai Wai, the community monitors have been vital in gathering data on carbon stocks in remote forests that are accessible only to them and in monitoring any incursions by prospecting gold miners.
Going forward, WWF’s goal – with ongoing support from Norad – is to develop and roll out cost-effective REDD+ Readiness training across Guyana, allowing all of the country’s 116 titled indigenous communities to benefit from the Guyana Norway Agreement and use the performance-based payments for conserving their forests to chart their own course for social and economic development.