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Guyana: Illegality in forestry sector significant -study finds

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Issue date: 
April 15
Publisher Name: 
Stabroek News
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There is a “significant” level of illegality in Guyana’s forestry sector though it is lower than in several other major tropical timber producing countries in South America and around the world, according to a study commissioned by Norway’s Ministry of the Environment.
The study, ‘Forest Law Enforcement and Governance and Forest Practices in Guyana,’ was done by Iwokrama and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). It said that Guyana, like many less-developed countries, has limited financial resources, but has developed a forest legal system for the management of its forests, coupled with other basic governance requirements, such as forest monitoring and incipient mechanisms of public participation.

Improvement of the monitoring capabilities of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the regular use of remote sensing data are required to address the problem of illegality, said the report, which was done last year. However, it pointed out that some roots of illegality have to do with social and land and resource tenure aspects in the case of small loggers, and with the system of timber charges and other contractual arrangements in the case of large concessionaires.

“Forest users will have to become REDD [reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation] partners in any probable arrangement, and this is particularly important for the case of small loggers and community forestry groups. Critical geographical areas such as the region bordering with Brazil on the South and the border with Suriname on the East should be particularly taken into account in REDD initiatives, due to risks and potential leakages, as well as for the probable increased additionality involved in emission reduction efforts,” the report, which was made available by the Norwegian government, stated.

The report identified mining as a “threat” to Guyana’s forest. It said that the forest resources of Guyana are still largely healthy and productive but some threats are already visible and may be expected to increase, unless properly managed, with economic development and increased links with regional partners, particularly Brazil.

The report said many forest users perceive mining as functioning without any rules. “They resent what appear to be significant differences in control with their activity,” the report says. It adds that mining is described as a “big problem” by forest company managers and has also been recognised as an obstacle for forest certification. It noted the establishment of the Cabinet Sub-committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, and the Natural Resources and Environment Advisory Committee (NREAC) as good steps toward inter-sectoral coordination. It added that government officers have indicated that the issue of forest multiple use, and particularly the relationships between forestry, mining and agriculture, are being addressed under the recommendations of the National Development Strategy and through the elaboration of land use plans. “Loose or inadequate control of mining activities on forest lands has the potential to negatively affect a REDD program. It would have the direct effect of producing forest degradation and even deforestation, and it would also impact on monitoring costs,” the report warned.

Illegal activities
Addressing illegal logging and legal compliance in the forest sector, the report cited studies which enumerate a number of illegal activities that take place in the forest sector of Guyana, on the basis of the detection of those activities and from anecdotal evidence of people involved in the sector. Typical activities occurring in Guyana in contravention of laws, regulations and procedures are: poaching from other concessions, non-allocated state forests, private properties or reserves; encroachment and logging on neighbouring concessions, either knowingly or not; smuggling produce past forest stations, avoiding declaration and forest charges; false declarations (also known as “laundering” or “legalising” produce as originating from private lands with falsely obtained removal permits); misuse of tags, such as purchasing tags from another concession holder, wrongly locating stump tags; under-declaring volume of loads and falsely declaring species; logging of restricted species; operating or processing without appropriate licenses, such as sawmill or chainsaw license; and logging in contravention of the Code of Practice.

The report said that official records of illegal activities show that non-compliance is perpetrated by both small and large operators, and by operators along the whole supply chain. It pointed out that during the first six months of 2006, some 285 cases of non-compliance were detected and monetary penalties imposed. Around 30% of them may have involved timber theft, like unlicensed logging and removal without a permit. The report also cited forestry company, Barama, for illegally “renting” its concessions. It said too that the current low royalty rates are a major incentive for the renting, or contracting-out of managerial control, of concessions, which is illegal. The report added that the detected cases may not be the only ones though in recent times, the GFC has stepped up its policing of these activities, and fines have been imposed on several operators.

Further, the report stated, smaller operators specifically chainsaw loggers and SFP holders, have particular incentives for engaging in illegal activities and this has created the perception that small operators, and particularly chainsaw loggers, are responsible for the vast majority of the illegalities in the forest sector, or that most of them operate partially or totally against the law. These statements are not correctly justified, and it has become clear that the issues of that sub-sector are closely tied with logging economics, land and resource accessibility, appropriate processing technologies and rural livelihoods, the report said. While illegalities do exist in this sub-sector, addressing the underlying issues can go a long way toward preventing them, it added.

Corruption in Guyana’s forest sector is widely considered to exist at a “petty” level, typically involving grafts given to or solicited by junior officials for overlooking infringements, according to the report. It said that worldwide, the award of forest concessions is considered as an area which may provide opportunities for illicit activities and corruption.

Meanwhile, on the volume of illegal logging, the report noted that this can go recorded or unrecorded with unrecorded logging comprising wood that is never detected through the system. People involved in the sector declared that most illegal timber is “legalised” at some stage in the supply chain. The proportion of illegal timber that does not enter the official system at some point is minimal, it said.

It further noted that by definition, illegal logging is difficult to quantify. It added that in the absence of hard data on illegal activities or other satisfactory methods for their estimation, the opinion of people involved in the sector on the volume of illegal timber was solicited. Most of the people put the figure within the 15% to 20% range, with GFC officers evenly declaring 5% as the upper range of the estimation, in what would be an officially recognised magnitude.

In terms of addressing the illegality, the report noted that the GFC devotes sixty percent of its resources to forest monitoring and these numbers do not suggest in principle a capacity problem. However, monitoring and control in the interior regions of Guyana have singular demands and these include the time it takes to access some areas and a need to develop a capacity to utilise remote sensing data. Thus, violations of forest management rules by concessionaires would have better chances of being detected than illegal logging, the report stated. Areas outside concessions might be patrolled once a year and this would not be enough for adequate control. Most units of the GFC, including monitoring, experience a high turnover rate, and this affects efficiency according to people in the sector. In some cases this responds to internal decisions, but the emigration rate of the educated population of Guyana, one of the highest in the world, is an influential factor. The emigration factor affects particularly the permanence and availability of highly trained and specialised personnel. The report pointed to several activities done by the GFC to tackle the illegal practices.

Forest governance

The report also identified a number of difficulties related to forest governance and said most of them were expected, many were already discussed locally with different levels of interest or intensity and a few of them were even the subject of international articles. All of them refer to aspects in which Guyanese public and official institutions show a genuine interest in advancing, the report said.

Further, it noted that the enactment of the new draft Forest Act would be important for any REDD program in Guyana. The enactment of the Bill will contribute to clarify some regulatory aspects which remain controversial, according to the report. It said several features of the Act are expected to enhance the local mechanisms for supporting REDD. Particularly relevant are the provisions for forest conservation of areas of State Forest, the regulation of forest operations through a code of practice which could be amended as required and would have legal status (“subsidiary legislation”), and the fire protection provisions. “The new Act also establishes a requirement of consultation with the Commission before granting any licence for mineral prospecting, mining or petroleum prospecting or production,” the report pointed out.
It said too that the resource policy and legislation produced in the last years is for the most part conceptually modern, and in line with the internationally accepted social and environmental requirements of sustainable resource management. “The practical implementation of these legal instruments and policies suffers from the problems of underdevelopment, such as poor infrastructure, shortage of skilled specialists and limited financial resources. The particular Guyanese context makes difficult the direct adoption of certain mechanisms and procedures, therefore all these “modern” rules and institutions have to go through adaptation processes which require ingenuity and time, and where resources are also important,” the report added.

It said that an aboriginal lands issue that has been addressed, with substantial advances in the definition of tenure rights and land demarcation, is a favourable condition for REDD. Likewise, consultation mechanisms and processes are legally established, and while problems may subsist in their implementation, no new structures may be necessary in this area.

According to the report, the scientific basis for the sustainable management of the Guyanese forests exists as a result of local work and good international cooperation. A combination of a gradual implementation of this knowledge and what has been historically a conservative and highly selective approach to timber harvesting resulted in a well preserved forest resource. The deforestation rate is among the lowest in the world. These are valuable attributes for REDD, it said.

However, it pointed out that in a REDD context, there is a need of developing adequate monitoring capabilities. The same factors which make Guyana an attractive REDD participant- vast natural forests barely affected by development and infrastructure-increase monitoring demands in different ways.

It cites mining and new pressures expected from increased communication and trade with Brazil as extra-sectoral issues that may become critical. Some decisions on land use planning will be required at the national level in response to these challenges, the report added.
It says in forest policy aspects, there is a significant margin for increasing the benefits provided by the traditional uses of the forest, such as the production of timber and wood products. The critical decisions to be taken in the short term and the next years require the development of valuation systems for determining the costs and benefits of different alternatives and courses of action on the forest resource. These valuation systems are related to environmental benefits and new alternative uses of forests, but also to more classical uses and standing timber values. There would be clear advantages in simplifying timber charges and making them more consistent with actual resource values, the report says.

On forest policies and legislation, the report identifies key issues as clarity and transparency of rules; efficiency, equity and the collection of resource rent; and mining. On rent, the report states that the forest resources of the State Forests of Guyana have the potential to provide a significant comparative advantage by virtue of generating resource rent but the current royalty system fails to capture this rent.

The report noted that the provisions of the New Draft Forest Act are flexible enough for making possible a change of the current system but “it is important to note that rent or stumpage appraisals based exclusively on costs under current conditions would result in deficient assessments, due to the inefficiencies associated to rent dissipation within the private sector.” It further said that capturing the rent of the forest resource has management, economic and social implications and is important within a REDD mechanism.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut