David Cassells, Director-General, Iwokrama
Navin Chandarpal, Science and Technology Adviser to the President of Guyana
Desmond Hoyte, former President of Guyana
Sarah George, school teacher, Fairview, Guyana
Carlos Martinez, UNDP Resident Coordinator, Guyana
Graham Watkins, wildlife biologist, Iwokrama
Sydney Alicock, resident, Surama, Guyana
Ovid, ranger, Iwokrama
Leslie Cadogan, Administrative Manager, Demerara Timber Company
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: This is Common Ground. [with the sounds of rain forest animals in the background] Here in the heart of a South American rain forest scientists and development experts are racing against time to save it from the fate of so many of the world’s rain forests. [sounds of chain saws in the background]. At the same time this project is trying to find alternative ways for the people of the rain forest to make a viable living.
??: Our old people used to say, “Leave the forest.” You know, that is, here is where we have life. And if you destroy it, we, you would be destroying yourself. So I think this is what we all have to understand.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
[Background sound of a steady rain.] During the rainy season the skies seem to open almost hourly with a drenching downpour like this one. The combination of frequent rains and the warmth of an equatorial location give rise to lush forests like this in the tiny country of Guyana. Located on the tip of South America, just north of Brazil, rain forests cover nearly 75% of Guyana. This forest is home to populations of jaguars, spider monkeys, Harpey?? eagles, tapirs, and giant river turtles, just to name a few of the larger species, some in danger of extinction, and hundreds of species of birds, like the red-footed caracara??, a member of the falcon family. [sound of a monkey screening in the background] Wildlife biologist Graham Watkins has been in charge of a program to identify and catalogue the flora and fauna found in a million-acre section of Guyana’s forest
GRAHAM WATKINS: There’s everything that you could think of that’s in a rain forest is basically here, from, there are, I think, five cat species, so you have your jaguars, your pumas, your ocelots. You have I think, six primates actually in the reserve here. You saw one today, the spider monkey, but you also have the large howler monkey which you heard before. You also have your two species of deer, two Brocket?? deer that are out here. You have tapirs. You have two species of peccaries. There are large numbers of sort of the “huntable” species. And then you, we collected 120 species in here over a three month period, of snakes, lizards and frogs. Of those we are unable to identify eight of them. So the question now is, of those eight, what are they? And what does that mean? We are in the process of looking at the fish. We’re up over, I think, about 250 species of fish from the reserve. Of those we appear to have one new genus, which is a pretty good find. And we’ve got one species which was only just recently found in Brazil. Mammal-wise we were unlucky in that a new species of rat was found. And bird-wise they came here expecting to find 350 species of birds at the most and I ended up with 450. Which is quite, in terms of diversity it’s quite impressive for this area. That’s what we’ve got for vertebrates.
What we hope to do is start a program of looking at the invertebrates now, as well. Which is potentially very important for biodiversity prospecting. I think much of the effort in Costa Rica that’s going into enbio?? was initially in plants, but now they’re shifting very much into insects because insects also contain very large quantities of toxic and nasty chemicals which they tend to extract from plants. So there’s a lot of biodiversity prospecting that can be done with insects and other invertebrates. So we need to start working on those next.
DAVIDSON: Watkins is taking part in an unusual experiment here in Guyana, an experiment that may help set a new course for rain forest management throughout the world. Back in 1989 Guyana’s then President, Desmond Hoyte, made an unprecedented offer to the world to take nearly a million acres of untouched rain forest in the middle of Guyana for a project in rain forest management. Since the world was becoming more aware of the importance of rain forests, perhaps poor countries like Guyana could profit from this precious resource without destroying it. Desmond Hoyte explains how the project came about.
DESMOND HOYTE: Well, it was the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. And this idea came up, first of all that, look, matters of the environment, the global environment, needs international cooperation, needs, need our regional cooperation. But, however, that does not mean that individual countries, no matter how small, ought not to be doing some things themselves. They shouldn’t sit down and fold their arms and say, “Well, we’re going to wait on the big international or the big regional effort.” And at that meeting in Kuala Lumpur, I developed this theme and proposed that we would be willing to set aside a part of our pristine rain forest for a project. To try to develop a model for sustainable management of rain forests and for research. And that was very enthusiastically welcomed by the other heads of government.
DAVIDSON: It took several years to secure funding for the preserve and then create an institutional structure with a plan of action, but the preserve is now up and running. It’s called “Iwokrama,” a local Amerindian word meaning “place of refuge.” The Iwokrama Reserve is located inland, far from the coast of Guyana where the majority of the country’s 800,000 people live, and is accessible only by riverboat. It’s a several hour trip by outboard. As we navigate up the Escicibo?? River, Guyana’s largest, which forms one boundary of the Iwokrama Reserve, David Cassells, an Australian forester in charge of the reserve, explains it mission.
DAVID CASSELLS: [with sound of outboard motor in the background] You know, if you look at the forests of Southeast Asia many of the forests have been cleared. In Indonesia, many of the areas that get logged tend to be followed by colonists, tend to be followed by industry, for oil-palm, timber plantations, rubber, and get converted. So it’s one of the areas of intact forest where the pressures are such that good conservation outcomes are possible. But it will only occur if we can generate more benefits for the local economy by conservation-orientated development path rather than an exploitation-development path. And of course that’s what Iwokrama is about. Can we do that as a model that then can be replicated elsewhere. I think if we look globally, any initiative that buys time is very important. Because I’ve seen attitudes with government officials here and people that I deal with, change enormously in two or three years. That there’s real interest in seeing alternatives developed now. Whereas three years ago people didn’t believe that any alternatives to, say, a standard conventional timber harvesting operation, were possible. And people would say, “Well, we recognize these other values. But only the multinational logging companies will come and put proposals at us.” Whereas I think Iwokrama gives us a chance to bring in different sorts of players. To look at the full range of uses and to see if we can come up with a better package that meets local needs but protects the global, important environmental values. I guess that’s the challenge.
DAVIDSON: Once we’re settled at Iwokrama’s base camp, a small clearing in the forest with about a dozen thatched roof cabins on stilts, Cassells takes us under the forest canopy, which towers hundreds of feet above, to continue his explanation of the project.
CASSELLS: [with sound of rain forest animals in the background] Okay, here we are in the moira?? forest in the middle of the Iwokrama Forest Reserve. Very large trees. This is what rain forest is about. All the storage, the carbon storage is expressed in the vegetation here. Very important habitat for a whole range of species—plants and animals. What this means here, I think, for the global community is a an expression of a whole range of values. It’s this sort of forest, 5% of the Earth is covered in this forest. As much as 90% of the species who live on Earth occur in these forest types. A very large proportion of the terrestrial carbon is stored in forests like this. How they manage will matter to the whole world.
We’re looking in the long run to generate an income from the forest of about $2 million year to maintain the core institution of say, 10-15 scientists with support staff, plus the field staff out here for the day-to-day management of the forest. Now, in the business plan they project eco-tourism earnings of about $50,000 a year by year three, so that will be the year 2000, growing to about $750,000 by year ten. People have said to me, “Is it realistic?” And the examples I give are Costa Rica—now Costa Rica has very good infrastructure—but the park system in Costa Rica I think is at just under 2 million hectares. So it’s about, what, four times, about five times the size of Iwokrama. Last year that generated gross revenue of $650 million from rain forest tourism.
DAVIDSON: Iwokrama is really about finding alternatives to current rain forest practices. Since 1950 more than half the world’s rain forests have been destroyed, at an average of 30 million acres a year. You can see the possible fate that awaits pristine areas like Iwokrama, just a couple hours away at the Demerara timber mill. [background sound of large industrial saws at a timber mill] Here, logs from the towering greenheart tree, an integral part of the rain forest, are being sawed into planks that will be sent overseas to countries like England, the U.S., and Japan. Demerara is one of a dozen foreign-owned timber companies with concessions to log in Guyana’s forests. Only 5% of the profit is returned to Guyana, but companies like Demerara do provide thousands of jobs in a country where nearly 80% of the people live below the poverty line. Leslie Cadogan, Administrative Manager for Demerara, says more than 90% of Demerara’s 500 employees are from Guyana.
LESLIE CADOGAN: We provide meals, a free meal every working day. Protective safety gears. Free housing, electricity, water supply. Subsidized food items at a ration store, company ration store. These are some of the entire remuneration, employment condition package.
DAVIDSON: Starting salary for a worker at the timber mills, Cadogan goes on to say, is about eight thousand Guyanese dollars every two weeks. That’s equal to about fifty-three US dollars. Guyana’s leaders are watching to see what kinds of alternatives to traditional logging Iwokrama can develop. Navin Chandarpal is Science and Technology to the President of Guyana. He expresses the frustration and the hope of many government officials in countries like Guyana, which possess these incredible rain forest resources but lack hard cash.
NAVIN CHANDARPAL: We have made it very clear that we are not satisfied that the forestry sector is playing a role it is supposed to play in terms of the development of our economy. We would like to see alternatives. Opposition if, is if what we have is so valuable to this planet that if the thinking globally is that you have so much value here, then respond to that value. Let us have initiatives that will compensate for that value. It’s not simply to tell us, “That look, these things are valuable don’t touch them.” If they’re so valuable then, and the services rendered, then we must have adequate compensation for not utilizing them in another manner. And that’s all we ask.
DAVIDSON: We’ll pause here for a short break You’re listening to Common Ground, a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a range of programs meant to promote thought and dialogue on world affairs. Transcripts and cassettes are available of this program, and at the end of the broadcast I’ll give details on how to order.
The Iwokrama preserve in Guyana is more than just a conservation effort. It’s goal is to develop a number of long-term money making projects that will prevent the forest from being clear-cut for timber and agriculture, while also providing income and livelihoods for the people who live in an around the forest. Several Amerindian villages surround the Iwokrama preserve. Here in the tiny hamlet called Serama??, villagers hope to cash in on the growing eco-tourism industry. [sounds of construction with hand tools in the background] They’ve just finished construction on a four-room guest house for visiting scientists and tourists, and are putting the finishing touches on the furniture they’ve hewn from forest products. Sydney Alicock is a member of the local Arowac?? Tribe. He has great hopes for the success of Iwokrama.
SYDNEY ALICOCK: At one time, like two years ago, I was, we all here were very, very, sort of getting down, disappointed in all these things. Because if that had been left—I know that you have been looking at the forest coming all the way down—if that had been left, today that would have been handled by some big timber company doing, they would have claimed that. We would have been employed, yes, maybe for the next twenty, thirty years. But what would have happened to us then? After all the greenheart and all the wood would have gone. So that is our concern. So you know, we need to look at it from that angle. I know we have been left here, like years behind. But then we find that things, the tables are turning, everything is coming back to us here. When of course, our old people used to say, “Leave the forest.” You know, that is, here is where we have life. And if you destroy it, we, you would be destroying yourself. So I think this is what we all have to understand.
DAVIDSON: Some people say that development projects may destroy a traditional way of life. Do you share any of those fears?
ALICOCK: Well, you have to be very—I don’t know the right word—very practical. You have to look at life full on. And time is coming, things are changing, and you have to brace yourself for changes. Nothing will remain like it has been all the years. But what you have to look for is the good. Look at the good and maintain that. For example, we have been, in the years gone by, poisoning fishes in pools, and we now realize that this is not a good practice and we would have to change it, using probably nets or other methods of trapping. And instead of continuously taking from the forest we should now, we are now thinking about putting back into the forest. I am very happy that Iwokrama is there. Because at the moment it is working as a buffer zone for our own development. So we are here and we could be able to learn from then, they would learn from us, and we be able to develop. You know, we in combination with the forest.
DAVIDSON: [construction and village sounds continue in the background] People in these communities are developing other projects with the help of Iwokrama like bee keeping to export honey, and they have a cassava production project underway. Young men are being trained as forest guides to take visitors to this rare habitat and they’re helping outside scientists identify the plants and animals of the forest and the many uses Amerindians have made of the forest for centuries. This young guide named Ovid points out the contraceptive value found in the seed of the giant greenheart tree.
OVID: Yeah, you take the seed and shave, shave, shave off some of it and soak it in a cup overnight, and next morning you drink.
DAVIDSON: Who drinks it?
OVID: Well, women take it and the men take it for, like, preventing malaria. Some take it like every week. Once a week.
DAVIDSON: Has this long been used?
OVID: Yeah. Start using it long ago.
DAVIDSON: Some local Amerindians were skeptical of the Iwokrama project at first, but most seem to have embraced its goals as tangible benefits are now forthcoming. [sound of local Amerindian children singing and playing music] These children in the village of Fairview are welcoming visitors to their newly-opened one-room schoolhouse, the first ever in their village. Until now the thirty-four children aged 3-15 have met where they could in the village, says their teacher Sarah George. And although she herself has had the benefit of only a sixth-grade education, Sarah George has volunteered to teach the children of Fairview for the past six years.
SARAH GEORGE: I really teach general. All I teach: English, math, and science; crafts, needlework and sew with them.
DAVIDSON: And are you from the village?
GEORGE: No, I am not from here. I am from deep south savannas.
DAVIDSON: What is that, a government program that has brought you here? Or. . .
GEORGE: No, it is an old man who is the great-grandfather of the children. And he see the education, he went out there and he see the education is useful. And he tell me and he talk to me about it and I come and see the place.
DAVIDSON: Was there any education here before you arrived?
GEORGE: No, no, I was the one who opened the education. I came here, I saw the place was so, in darkness, I call it. No one can read or write and I conciliated to, and after this, go the old man’s plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: But do the parents pay you something or give you, help you with food or. . . .
GEORGE: No, no they don’t help me. No they don’t help me. I find my food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: Don’t you think it’s a bit too tough. . . .
GEORGE: Yeah, it’s very hard. But I have to try.
DAVIDSON: Back in Serama, Sydney Alicock recognizes that there are both positive and negative aspects to education and economic development. The indigenous people of Guyana don’t necessarily won’t to live like people in the country’s capital, Georgetown. But continuing to live in extreme poverty is not an option either.
ALICOCK: In development you have the negative and positive side of things. In life generally. And I wouldn’t say to the level of Georgetown. We would like to see something more understanding, that sort of relationship, that human feeling for one another. Not like in Georgetown, what we have in Georgetown there. I mean, you might find that because you have lights and water and television and so that is life. But that is just part of it. If you don’t have understanding and have all these things it could be more detrimental to you. So we need a combination of all these things to make life work well.
DAVIDSON: Is there a problem at all of young people leaving the community?
ALICOCK: Oh yes. Every day, every day, every day. This is because, for a number of years now I’ve been trying to—like the voice in the wilderness—trying to allow people to, somebody to hear what is happening. We have been creating schools, having scholarships for our youths from within this region, Region 9, the biggest region in Guyana. And no one has ever stopped to think—I feel that is the impression that is being given now—to stop to think, “Well why these, children, these youths are being educated? For what reason? Because when they return there is nothing to occupy their time. So you would find them going to Georgetown or in the mines or they go to Brazil where there is this light and there is opportunity for them. Within the community there is nothing. So why keep them? You educate them here. Not to do the things that we always do. Which is not bad, but then they need to get some funds to come up and make themselves man and woman of the future.
[sound of children singing in English about their culture and their village, Serama]
DAVIDSON: Up to this point the Iwokrama project has been funded by a $3 million grant from the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, and several donor countries. The plan is for it to eventually turn enough profit so it doesn’t have to rely on outside help. Abraham Poole, a Guyanese information officer for UNDP, and David Cassells, the Director General of Iwokrama, argue that the $3 million has been money well spent.
ABRAHAM POOLE: The UDNP’s money has been catalytic in helping Guyana to look at the whole matter of environment. Iwokrama is central in all of that. And the focus of Iwokrama is affecting the whole perception of environment. It is a push factor in a number of, the evolution of policies nationally. So Iwokrama is not just merely this piece of land and all that’s there. It’ more than that. It’s coming at a time when developing countries are really looking at environment critically. So Iwokrama is that catalyst. It’s helping.
CASSELLS: You can only judge this program in five or ten years progress down the line. When we’re actually doing commercial activities, when we’re starting to earn income, when we’re bringing tourists here. But you know, I would say we have made a substantial contribution to sustainable development in Guyana in a number of reasons. First of all, the consultation processes that have started here are basically shaping the way the National Protected Area System will be developed. The fact that we’ve got trained rangers here with experience means that there’s a cadre of people to draw upon as you start to develop that system. These guys will start to get experience in sustainable forest management. The Forest Commission has had really major improvement in the last three or four years. But again, it’s at the very basic institutional structure level. Their capacity to get out in the bush and actually monitor what’s going in various concessions is still very low. It will be people like this with dirty boots experience that are going to make or break it. And that’s true in most countries. It’s the absence of those people that’s fundamentally missing.
At the broader level people who are studying biology at the University of Guyana. Up until the Forner?? surveys here, had really had no experience in actually out in the field. The small cadre of students that’s come out with Graham and have worked with the rangers and slept in tents and hammocks in the bush for six and seven weeks at a time, have real field skills. That’s the first time that’s happened here in several decades, since the colonial era. So I think they’re all pretty significant contributions.
Now, the real question is, is that worth $3 million? I think it is. I think $3 million is a lot of peanuts. I’ve told a lot of people here, or a few people here, I used to be a park director for a local authority in Australia where the budget was $7.5 million a year for something like five or six thousand hectares of affective areas. Now that’s not an entirely fair comparison because of the different cost structures. But I think it puts it into some sort of perspective, that a million dollars a year here has achieved an enormous amount if you compare it to natural resource management agencies. I think the springboard to actually take that further is there. It can still fail. It’s not a done deal. It never is because there’s a lot of uncertainty with natural resource management. You can’t really readily point to a sustainably managed forest or fisheries in very few places in the world. If it was easy you wouldn’t be having this sort of program. But I think it can be done.
DAVIDSON: David Cassells is Director-General of the Iwokrama Preserve in Guyana, South America. For Common Ground I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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