Biofuels, logging may spur deforestation in Guyana
Biofuels, logging may spur deforestation in Guyana
February 15, 2007
Growing timber exports and rising interest in biofuels are raising concerns that deforestation could accelerate in the South American country of Guyana.
Guyana is a small, lightly populated country on the north coast of South America. About three-quarters of Guyana is forested, roughly 60 percent of which is classified as primary forest. Guyana’s forests are highly diverse: the country has some 1,263 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and 6,409 species of plants. According to an assessment by the ITTO, forests in Guyana can be broken down as follows: mixed forest (36 percent), montane forest (35 percent). swamp and marsh (15 percent), dry evergreen (7 percent), seasonal forest (6 percent), and mangrove forest (1 percent).
View from Turtle Mountain at Iwokrama (top), view of Mora Forest (middle), Flushing tree in forest at Iwokrama. Photos by Dr Raquel Thomas, Director of Resource Management and Training at Iwokrama
Despite its forest cover, Guyana’s ancient soils are highly infertile and most of the country’s population of 765,000 is confined to coastal areas. Guyana is one of South America’s poorest countries and carries an external debt that is 40 percent of its GDP.
Historically, Guyana’s extensive forests have been lightly exploited, largely due to obsolete equipment and lack of capital, but in the early 1990s the government began to make overtures toward foreign logging firms to harvest the country’s “slow growing” and “heavy” hardwoods like greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiaei). Encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to maximize development of its resources to attract foreign investment, in 1991 the ruling strongman granted a 50-year, 4.2-million-acre (1.69-million-hectare) concession to Barama Company Limited, a Malaysian-Korean logging firm. Under the terms of the deal, Barama enjoyed a 10-year tax holiday, paid almost no royalties to the Guyana government, and was granted the right to log lands that had been inhabited by indigenous groups. With such favorable agreements, logging firms soon flooded to Guyana, which had some of the lowest logging fees and royalties in the world—only 10 percent of what most African and Asian countries charged at the time. At the same time illegal chainsaw logging expanded rapidly, and Guyana lost control over its forestry sector.
In reaction to the sudden invasion of foreign logging firms and in order to receive a loan, in May of 1995, the government issued a three-year moratorium on new logging concessions. Shortly thereafter, the government enacted environmental legislation and took steps to regain some semblance of control over the timber industry. With aid from international groups, the Guyanese government increased funding for its forestry commission to better monitor logging activities. According to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the current forestry law includes a provision for a “conservation concession in which an opportunity value of fee revenue is paid in lieu of harvesting revenues.” Thus timber companies can be compensated for leaving an area of forest untouched by logging.
Reduced impact logging (RIL) training — image (c) Forestery Training Center Inc. (top). Team conducting preharvest inventory, photo by Raquel Thomas (bottom).
Today the level of harvesting in Guyana is very low — probably 350,000-400,000 cubic meters per year from an area of 6 million hectares according to the UN and ITTO — but increasing. ITTO reports that logs from Guyana arrived at the Zhangjiagang port in China for the first time in September 2006, while export earnings from the forestry sector rose just over 22% to $59.5 million in 2006.
While law value log exports are rising, the country is trying to focus on value-added forest products. There is also increased emphasis on “sustainable” logging. While Barama’s Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification (a mark of sustainably harvest timber) was recently revoked for failing to meet its logging standards, the fact that the timber firm was even interested in certification is a positive sign for responsible forest management in the country. Barama has said that it plans to stay in Guyana for its full 50-year concession, suggesting that it intends to manage its forest areas well. Barama’s operations are monitored by an independent research center that carries out studies to assess growth rates and logging impacts. Meanwhile, in February, Iwokrama, a leading rainforest research and development organization, announced a partnership with Tigerwood Guyana Inc. for a ‘sustainable harvesting’ initiative. The five-year plan calls for the harvesting of trees earmarked by the conservation center. The timber will be processed into wood products that will provide revenue for Iwokrama, which is currently heavily reliant on grants and donations, and support the local economy through employment. Timber harvesting will meet FSC standards according to Iwokrama.
Miners in the Caroni river basin in neighboring Venezuela. According to the ITTO, similar mining activity is occurring in Guyana.
Mining is one of Guyana’s most important economic activities—sugar, bauxite, rice, and gold account for 70-75 percent of export earnings, according to the World Trade Organization. Both large-scale mining firms and informal miners are active in Guyana, though these days the brunt of environmental damage comes from the latter. Illegal miners, known as garimpeiros, arrive from Brazil in search of gold and diamonds. Because their operations are poorly monitored, mercury pollution, deforestation, and hunting of wildlife hunting are growing problems especially in the upper Essequibo region.
Plans to improve a bridge over the Takutu river on the border with Brazil and reports that a Brazilian firm is seeking to grow sugar cane for ethanol in eastern Guyana, suggest that Guyana may soon see more agricultural development, particularly along the Atlantic seaboard, where lands are more accessible. Road improvements on the road from Boa Vista could cut the driving time from Manaus, Brazil to the Atlantic by three days, perhaps spurring more settlement and port development
Overall forest loss in Guyana
Felling Greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei). Photo by Raquel Thomas.
Official government figure show no change in forest cover in Guyana since 1990s, but scientists familiar with the country estimate that annual deforestation is around 15,000 ha per year, or about one percent of its remaining forest cover. While the deforestation rate is currently low, recent trends suggest that this could accelerate, especially since less than 3 percent of Guyana is under any form of protection.
Guyana’s environmental profile. Guyana is a small, lightly populated country on the north coast of South America. About three-quarters of Guyana is forested, roughly 60 percent of which is classified as primary forest. Guyana’s forests are highly diverse: the country has some 1,263 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and 6,409 species of plants. According to an assessment by the ITTO, forests in Guyana can be broken down as follows: rainforest (36 percent), montane forest (35 percent). swamp and marsh (15 percent), dry evergreen (7 percent), seasonal forest (6 percent), and mangrove forest (1 percent).
Illegal mining threatens forest, biodiversity, natives in French Guiana. As Europe frets over climate change and deforestation, threats to “Europe’s largest tropical rainforest” are mounting, according to reports from French Guiana. While French Guiana is best known for its infamous Devil’s Island penal colony and as the main launch site for the European Space Agency, which is responsible for more than 50% of the state’s economy activity, most of the territory is covered with lowland tropical rainforest. French Guiana’s forests are biologically rich with some 1,064 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, and 5,625 species of vascular plants according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Center.
Mining in Venezuelan Amazon threatens biodiversity, indigenous groups. Troubles are mounting in one of Earth’s most beautiful landscapes. Deep in the Venezuelan Amazon, among ancient forested tabletop mountains known as tepuis, crystalline rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, illegal gold miners are threatening one of world’s largest remaining blocks of wilderness, one that is home to indigenous people and strikingly high levels of biological diversity. As the situation worsens — a series of attacks have counted both miners and indigenous people as victims — a leading scientific organization has called for the Venezuelan government to take action.
Forest restoration important in Guyana. 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.
This article is based on a previous mongabay.com articles.