Groundbreaking trust fund helps keep nature alive in Guyana

© Pete Oxford/iLCP

Guyana is a land of fantastic landscapes — magnificent mountains, open savannahs, intact forests and majestic rivers. These diverse ecosystems provide a range of extraordinary environmental values, such as sheltering rare species — including harpy eagles, black caimans, giant anteaters, anacondas, capybaras, giant river turtles and the huge arapaima fish — and producing enormous volumes of fresh water that make it the fourth most water-rich country in the world. And now thanks to the new Conservation Trust Fund, these benefits should be around for a long time to come.

The Guyanese people, especially indigenous communities, have a deep sense of commitment to maintaining natural ecosystems, yet in the past there was always the sense that our economic growth required the destruction of nature. But now, as the world realizes the incredible value derived from nature’s ability to maintain climate stability and human well-being, things are changing.

Located in the Guiana Shield region of northern South America, Guyana has one of the last remaining tracts of intact tropical rainforests, which covers some 85 percent of the country. With high forest cover and a low deforestation rate, Guyana’s forests make an irreplaceable contribution to ensuring a stable global climate by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere — while also providing for local people.

The US$ 8.5 million Conservation Trust Fund is the first of its kind here in Guyana. For the first time there is a permanent source of funding directed toward conservation. Financing for the trust comes from the German government through their development bank KfW, which provided US$ 5 million, with another US$ 3.5 million coming from CI’s Global Conservation Fund, made possible by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

CI played a critical role in the design and creation of the fund, which will provide long-term financial security for the management of Guyana’s national system of protected areas and support efforts by the government and local communities to manage the country’s natural assets in a sustainable manner.

Protected areas are a key component of Guyana’s national Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). The LCDS seeks to promote low-carbon economic development using revenues generated through the maintenance of the climate and biodiversity assets found in the country’s intact ecosystems. The trust fund, and the national system of protected areas it will support, will ensure long-term conservation of tropical forests and other ecosystems and help maintain critical carbon stock through a range of initiatives, including working with the local communities who know best how to keep nature thriving.

The trust fund will provide funding to support management of the 611,000-hectare (1.5 million-acre) Kanuku Mountains Protected Area (KMPA) and the 625,000-hectare (1.54 million-acre) Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area. This will include support for conservation efforts in the 11 villages that interact with KMPA. In total, the fund will support the Macushi, Wapishana and Wai Wai indigenous peoples, whose relationship with these lands go back thousands of years, and who can teach us a lot about community and natural resource management.

In my years of working on conservation issues in Guyana, one of the biggest changes I’ve observed has been the growth in community interest and support for protected area establishment and management. This has been particularly evident in the KMPA, where communities have progressed from being highly concerned about the negative impacts that establishment of the protected area would have on their lives to being among the most vocal advocates for establishment and especially co-management.

This fund directly illustrates one way in which the world can keep ecosystems functioning. Since the Guyanese government launched the LCDS in 2009, we have seen a major commitment from the government of Norway to support low carbon development while maintaining biodiversity. The German government has also consistently supported Guyana’s development, and its contribution to the fund is another affirmation of this commitment. At the launch of the trust last week in the capital city of Georgetown, Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar reaffirmed his strong support for the environment, pointing out that Guyana must continue to play its part in conserving nature even if others have historically done otherwise. Such commitment makes me proud to be Guyanese.

We have reached a great place, but there is still much to do. NGOs like CI must continue to do our part in supporting this small developing country and helping it demonstrate how it can grow its economy along a healthy sustainable path.

David Singh is the executive director of CI-Guyana.