Photo by Peter Prokosch | Elephants (Loxodonta africana) at waterhole, Etoscha National Park, Namibia

Photo by Peter Prokosch | Elephants (Loxodonta africana) at waterhole, Etoscha National Park, Namibia - Photo: 2020

Indigenous Communities of Guyana and Women in Togo Fight Forest Degradation

Viewpoint by P.I. Gomes*

The writer, Dr Patrick I Gomes, was Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States for five years until February 29, 2020. The 79-nation inter-regional body officially became the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) on April 5, 2020. Dr Gomes was previously Ambassador of the Republic of Guyana, to the EU in Brussels.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (IDN) –  The discussion on “Income Opportunities for Women” in the Togolese Republic in West Africa, reported in IDN on July 6, provides an opportunity to share some aspects of the experiences by Indigenous women and community loggers in the Iwokrama Forest area in Guyana, where sustainable forest management and income-generating activities are being pursued.

Like their sisters in Togo, indigenous women of Iwokrama pursue their livelihoods and those of their households by reforestation activities. But, in addition, Iwokrama women are involved in various tasks and roles in checking forest log operations, serving as guides in eco-tourism and providing household help as care-givers in tourist lodges, for instance.

To better understand this array of tasks, a brief description is provided of the Iwokrama Centre and the surrounding indigenous communities of Guyana’s tropical forested area and neighbouring Wetlands.

The Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development (Iwokrama, as it is abbreviated) was created in the “run–up” to the Rio Summit in 1992 and had its origin as a gift of nearly one million acres of tropical forests (actually 371,000 hectare) from the Government of Guyana to the Commonwealth in 1989 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malaysia.

The rationale for establishment of the Centre stems from the fact that successful conservation of rain forests requires that local people and national governments are aware of and participate in financial benefits from sustainable management of forest resources.

For that reason, in its official designation, the Centre addresses “conservation and development”. Otherwise, one may expect that tropical rain forest degradation will continue unabated, at a rate of approximately 14 million hectares annually.  This rate of forest degradation is a significant source of CO2 (carbon dioxide) contributing to Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) and consequentially global warming.

Iwokrama manages that huge expanse of forest and wetlands as a complex ecosystem with the intention of showing how tropical forests can be conserved and sustainably used for ecological, social and economic benefits to local, national and international communities. This is a contribution of Guyana to the global south by its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) with the intention of becoming a Green State.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its March 2014 report highlighted serious impacts of climate change, options for mitigation of GHGs included great emphasis on sustainable forest management. Central to this is reducing deforestation as cost effective mitigation measures and of course, enabling sustainable livelihoods for the people and community whose existence has historically depended on forests and accompanying ecosystems.

For the sustainable management of this large expanse of forests, Iwokrama conducts a range of activities and has a structure to enable the dual functions of conservation and development that have at their centre the people of Iwokrama. Indeed, the Centre it is aptly described as a unique institution that has the ability to demonstrate that environmental conservation, social consciousness and sustainable economic activities can be mutually reinforcing and help reduce the global rate of deforestation by providing models of sustainable forest management using multiple forest resources.

To satisfy those aspects in the spectrum of its mission, the Iwokrama Centre’s activities demonstrate that successful forest management is attained by developing conservation models through the wise use of multiple forest resources, along with the development of technologies and governance models that will build capacity and produce innovative businesses and models for collaborative management.

In this regard, the people, who work at Iwokrama or reside in the indigenous communities of and surrounding the Centre, participate in capacity building, development of skills for forest management and operating the eco-tourism facilities that generate incomes to supplement the logging and timber harvesting of the forest resources of Iwokrama.

This is truly a complex ecosystem addressing the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in which women of the indigenous communities play a prominent role. They are home-makers and care-givers, they acquire skills to take records on logging activities, ensuring reforestation and not deforestation, they serve as tour guides for visitors and serve as co-managers in decision-making for the health, education and cultural customs of the families of Iwokrama.

By these means, direct contributions are being made to implement the SDGs: ending poverty in all its forms and everywhere (SDG 1); ensuring healthy lives (SDG 3); achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls (SDG 5); supporting climate action (SDG 13) and especially, by assisting in sustainably managing forests (SDG15).

Promoting South-South & Triangular Cooperation

One would like to believe that activities of the Iwokrama Centre in Guyana may well be considered as having significant good practices for information-sharing, as well as people-to-people exchanges to advance gender equality and empowerment of women and girls in collaboration with Togo’s reforestation project. The latter intends to offer income opportunities for women’s groups in two rural Prefectures (Administrative Divisions) of Togo in West Africa.

This milestone project is being funded by Soka Gakkai, a global community-based Buddhist organization and will be executed by a local NGO partner the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). The two have signed a memorandum to launch the Togo project that will address climate change, poverty and gender issues in those regions of Togo, where forests are being lost rapidly and poverty is increasing.

The ITTO is no stranger to Guyana and possesses good knowledge of sustainable forest management practices in Guyana, which could provide useful lessons to be shared on organisational and capacity-building activities from which the Togo project would benefit. A suggestion for working relations between the ITTO and Soka Gakkai with Iwokrama on mutually determined features of project implementation processes in Togo could serve as an example to promote South-South & Triangular Cooperation, recognised as highly desirable in the UN’s Agenda 2030.

[In this regard, it is necessary to recognise that initially, consideration could be given to the design of suitable technical cooperation measures between the officials of the Togo project and Iwokrama personnel. However, due to the language differences between English-speaking Guyana and Franco-phone Togo, at least, if not training material, a documentary film and visuals that illustrate the scope and topics of activities of Iwokrama, could provide lessons of benefit to the Togo project.] [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 July 2020]

Photo: Iwokrama forest in Guyana. Credit: Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development.

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group.

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