Oct 02, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
For years, members of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and even the political opposition boasted that Guyana enjoys a high standing on the global platform for its low deforestation rates.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Global Forest Resources estimate that Guyana’s deforestation rate has been negligible.
Significantly also, Guyana’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declares that based on national estimates, Guyana’s deforestation rate up to end 2015, had peaked at only 0.079 per cent in 2012 and 0.065 per cent in 2014.
These rates were submitted under the December 2015, Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC.
But are the aforementioned statistics masking the frightening reality of what is really taking place in our forests?
In an interview with this newspaper, forest specialist, Janette Bulkan shares her perspective on the topic. Bulkan, who has written numerous columns on Guyana’s forests, said that readers must always bear in mind that the FAO figures are usually simple transcriptions of what the GFC sends to the Rome Headquarters of the FAO.
Bulkan stressed that the FAO has only a limited ability to check or verify what the GFC claims.
The forest expert said that the low deforestation rate in Guyana and in other countries of the Guiana Shield, from French Guiana in the east to Venezuela in the west, is due almost entirely to the natural infertility of the very ancient soils.
She said that unlike most countries, the rocks underneath the soils of Guyana have been quite stable for most of the past 400 million years and have not been transgressed by ocean or rejuvenated by tectonic uplift or volcanism.
Bulkan explained that the rain over hundreds of millions of years has washed most of the nutrients out of the soils. “Unlike the Brazilian Amazon basin to the south, the Guiana Shield soils were too poor to support large pre-European populations. Amerindian communities were small and scattered and moved relatively frequently to allow the poor soils to recover some fertility. Hence there were no pre-European cities (as in Mexico) or large farm communities (as around Santarem in Brazil),” Bulkan said.
The forest expert said that the Dutch tried upriver plantations but, when these failed because of low soil fertility and rampant weed growth, the Dutch moved to the coastal swamps, empoldered and drained them with slave labour, and created the current coastland.
Bulkan continued, “The Government of Guyana has done nothing to stabilise the deforestation rate by positive policy or practice. A graph shows that, since 2009, the deforestation rate is closely related to the London bullion price; that is, a higher price for gold means more people working in the gold bush, with no control over the forest and soils destroyed. There are no policies now current for active reduction in the deforestation rate.”
Bulkan said that there are no policies to reduce forest degradation. On the contrary, the forest expert expressed that the GFC is not without blame as its failure to safeguard the future crop trees of the preferred commercial timbers species has led to demonstrable decline in the forest wealth of Guyana.
She said that this was shown conclusively by Tropenbos in 2002 and by graphs she had put together from the GFC’s data on production and export.
Bulkan also commented that the illegal policy directive of former Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud, in 2011 allowed loggers to cause even more degradation in the ‘reefs” of preferred species such as greenheart and purple heart.
Bulkan concluded, “This is why Guyanese timbers cannot be used in government procurement projects in the UK – Guyana passes some legality tests but fails on sustainability criteria. These criteria apply to the specific areas (100-ha logging blocks in valid in-date TSA logging concessions) from which the offered timber has been extracted. Protests that there are still plenty of old hollow greenheart trees left standing after repeated harvests fail the UK test when the middle-sized trees have been extracted or damaged and seedlings destroyed.
Likewise, timber harvested from two-year State Forest Permissions is unsustainable by the 1993 GFC policy on concessions”.
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