The Best Guardians of our Forests: What it Takes to Protect Forests Effectively

By: Nadine Kirchhartz

We have all heard how important our forests are because their conservation is essential to climate protection, not only for us in Guyana, but also for the planet. This is particularly true for Guyana because our forest is pristine, highly biodiverse, and able to store three times as much carbon per hectare as most other Amazon forests.

While the effects of deforestation on the world’s climate do not seem to be a tangible threat to some of us, the direct causes of the loss of forests can be seen and felt in our immediate vicinity.

One of the largest blocks of tropical forest in the world, even within the Guiana Shield, is found in our country, producing up to 15 percent of the world’s freshwater. These forests not only are the habitat for many species of plants and animals which provide us with food, medicine, and our livelihood, they also play an essential role in preserving the quality of life in our immediate environment.

Trees help to maintain the water cycle, which in turn provides fertile soil, while deforested areas are at increased risk of flooding, soil erosion and landslides. And last but not least: Cleared forests create optimal conditions for the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue from mosquitos, primates, and other animals to people.

We cannot effectively conserve our forests without the active participation of the communities.

At the very moment we become clearly aware of the importance of our forests and the direct impact of their destruction on our lives, we cannot help but opt for an active role in the struggle to protect the immense value a living forest represents. Consequently, our government has begun to partner with the Government of Norway to do exactly that: preserve the forest and protect the rights of the people who depend on it by participating in the programme REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). In this context, there is a significant need to reach out to people and engage as many as possible to join the cause, because broad-based awareness and participation of all parts of society in this venture is critical.

But let’s focus on the people that depend on forests for a living, because they are the ones that directly benefit from conserving living forests. But above all, they are the best guardians our forests can have. We cannot effectively conserve our forests without the active participation of the communities.

Experience has shown that forests that are jointly managed by local people are more effectively protected from deforestation and exploitation. In fact, deforestation rates worldwide are significantly lower when communities are entrusted with the management and protection of the forest.

In Guyana, large stretches of forest are indigenous customary lands. 16% of the nation’s forest is home to indigenous groups currently holding titles and there is still a large number of communities living in untitled territories. The participation of all of these communities in policies and programs related to REDD+ is critical.

Our country excels at conserving forested land: it has recorded its lowest deforestation rate to date at 0.048 per cent. We should be proud of this great achievement which suggests that our country is on the right track. However, in order to keep up our good work, we need to improve the application of forest laws, strengthen forest governance and promote trade in legal wood products with the involvement of indigenous peoples, agroforestry communities, as well as the private sector.

Taking these steps will help us avoid social problems and environmental degradation, and can even result in important economic opportunities for our society.

REDD+ recognises the value of living forests and, once it is ready for implementation, the conservation of forest lands will be remunerated. However, a successful implementation of REDD+ can only take place if readiness preparations have been successfully completed. Preparation activities not only include stakeholder engagement and capacity building, but also aim to provide information and clarification so that conflicts of interest can be identified at an early stage and, in the best-case scenario, be arbitrated.

In Panama, for example, indigenous peoples play a central role in the REDD+ programme. In the initial phase some indigenous groups expressed concerns that their rights would be weakened by it, and REDD+ responded to these concerns by re-affirming a rights-based approach that would strengthen local forest rights while preventing deforestation.

In Guyana, efforts are made to reach out to stakeholders involved in practices such as timber harvesting, logging and mining, to successfully communicate that stopping deforestation does not mean stopping all forest-related economic activities, but rather guarantees legislation and quality systems to improve sustainability. These efforts include research on and integration of more sustainable economic activities.

Once we have reached a broad-based awareness and participation of all parts of society, we are well on our way to maintaining our low deforestation rate and becoming an example for other countries.

Originally published at