Georgetown, Guyana — Several villages in the South Rupununi have collectively put together a draft plan of action to deal with threats to the eco-system and biodiversity of the planned Kanuku protected area.
Chief among the threats the area faces are savannah and forest fires, poisoning of creeks and ponds, over-harvesting and inappropriate methods of harvesting of natural resources, logging, wildlife trade, and water pollution. The draft plan of action was formulated at a community-based biodiversity threats management workshop held at the Tabatinga Sports Complex at Lethem in Region Nine (Upper Esequibo/Upper Takutu) from April 24 to 27.
Toshaos of the villages of Yupukari, Kaicumbay, Katoka, Nappi, Parishara, Hiowa, St Ignatius, Moco Moco, Kumu, Quarrie, Parikwarunauwa, Shuliban (Macushi), Quiko, Meriwau, Sand Creek, Rupunau, Shea and Maruranau, a village council nominee and a teacher from each village were among the attendees at the workshop, which Conservation International Guyana (CIG) facilitated.
Resource personnel were drawn from the Guyana Forestry Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Guyana Fire Service and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
The threats management workshop, which had its genesis in the conservation of the endangered red siskin and other biodiversity within the Kanuku mountain range, also involved representatives from the Dadanawa Ranch and the South Rupununi Conservation Club, Ajay Baksh of CIG said.
The workshop recognised that some of the threats to biodiversity have been imbedded in the cultural norms of the people, such as felling trees and burning of the savannah and forest to trap animals for food; poisoning creeks, ponds and rivers to catch fish for their diet; trapping birds for the wildlife trade and over-harvesting of logs, flora and fauna to supplement their income. Following intense discussions, the participants proposed a number of “doable” activities to curb and in some cases eliminate the threats.
Shulinab Village leader Alan Fredericks and Sharon Parks, a village councillor of Kumu felt that while children would have to be targeted to teach them that some of the traditional customs were harmful to the environment and to people as well, it would be difficult to curb these habits among the older folks without enforcement.
Parks said that in some of the villages, particularly hers, fires lit by known persons and which tend to go out of control and damage other people’s property often led to quarrels and fights mainly during the dry season.
For Parks and Louanna Bernard – a teacher of Parikwarunauwa – the workshop was the first such one they had been exposed to. While they both knew of the threats and the dangers associated with certain activities, they said these were part of their customs and as such they ignored the repercussions because they felt they lacked the knowledge to do anything about them.
While they said they now felt empowered to attempt to make a difference in their communities, one toshao, Eustace Gomes, opposed the implementation of some ideas to curb over-harvesting of logs and the Ite palm from which Tibisiri straw is obtained.
Toshao John Alfred of Nappi said people in his area were becoming more environmentally conscious. Eco-tourism has begun to take root as an alternative economic activity, preserving the natural environment in the village. The village council, he said, had set up a $3 million eco-lodge to attract visitors to the community.
But he said there was a minority, who still held on to some other destructive methods such as burning, poisoning and bird trapping for trade.
Alfred said Nappi currently attracts visitors from neighbouring Brazil, the USA, Europe and other parts of the world through local and overseas-based tour operators. Alfred said they were offered attractions such as the Nappi and Jordan Falls and could walk nature trails and view the endangered harpy eagle – the world’s largest – in its natural habitat.
At present, he said the village was experiencing a problem with a logger, and was trying to manage this along with the regional authorities, the Guyana Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
He was supportive of the ideas and proposals that came out of the workshop, which he and other participants felt should be shared with other communities in Region Nine and other hinterland regions.
The proposed activities coming out of the workshop included projects involving education and awareness, enforcement, formation of relevant committees to oversee implementation, governance and data collection.
Though the issues of building capacity and economic alternatives were not discussed within working groups at the workshops they were put to the floor in the general plenary in the wrap-up session.
With regard to the education and awareness programmes, the participants generally agreed to implement threat sensitisation programmes; produce and distribute awareness tools, such as pamphlets, fliers, videos; host lectures to inform communities; implement school-based awareness programmes; host village meetings to inform the public; and disseminate information on wildlife regulations, in particular.
Noting that laws and rules and regulations were in place to deal with the majority of the threats, they proposed the implementation of enforcement programmes, which would include the establishment and management of checkpoints; the formulation and enactment of community-based rules and regulations; the formation of surveillance groups; penalties; partnerships with national authorities such as Guyana Police Force; and the involvement of rangers and community environmental workers.
While it had been suggested that a number of committees needed to be formed to monitor the threats, eventually it was proposed that because of the small populations in most communities and the lack of personnel, a general environmental committee could carry out the work. However, in cases where necessary, there may be need for specific committees such as for logging and to manage the poisoning of water sources.
In relation to governance, the workshop proposed enhancing the leadership skills of village councils and the establishment of a ‘Permitting System’ within communities.
Participants agreed that data collection was essential to carry out some of the tasks they proposed. This process would include conducting inventories of resources to guard against over-harvesting; updating community resource maps, and the implementation and management of record-keeping systems.
Capacity building for relevant skills and the identification and promotion of alternative economic activities were also suggested so that in the case of hunting for wild animals, poultry and livestock farming were suggested and instead of poisoning the water, fishing implements such as spears, hooks, seines, cast nets and lines could be used.
In his presentation on the effects of forest and savannah fires on biodiversity, Eustace Alexander of CIG noted that fire leads to the loss of species, habitat and food resources of both wildlife and humans. Fire affects soil properties including decreasing soil nutrient content, removing surface vegetation and causing erosion. He said it kills important organisms such as earthworms and prevents the regeneration of certain plant species.
In terms of atmospheric processes, fire causes pollution and releases poisonous carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the atmosphere; it reduces the amount of moisture in the water cycle; creates the greenhouse gas effect that leads to global warming that would ultimately make life difficult for all living beings on the earth, Alexander said.
The direct effect on humans is deprivation of ecosystem services like clean air, quality drinking water, crop pollination and eco-tourism.
Health-wise, inhaling smoke constantly could lead to lung infections and death and he noted that the 1997/1998 bush fires in Indonesia and Australia caused about 75 million people to be hospitalized.
And in terms of welfare an uncontrolled bush fire could lead to loss of property and lives after years of investment.
There are prescribed burns as practiced in Brazil, he noted but cautioned that they required a lot of training and skills.
The workshop encountered its own threats when saboteurs broke into the sports complex, vandalised the property, defaced posters, drew graphic obscene images on the furniture and placed thumb tacks in as many chairs as they could. A report was made to the police at Lethem who are investigating the matter.