Guyana: How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down

With the help of rich countries, Guyana is demonstrating that preservation can be profitable.

undefined
By Lucas Foglia – May 16, 2019, 5:00 AM EDT

With the help of international donors, Guyana, a country of fewer than 750,000 people, is pioneering an approach to protecting the trees that cover more than four-fifths of its surface. To make the rainforest last, it’s using it up slowly.     

relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
The only road that transects Guyana’s rainforest is mostly unpaved and often impassable during the rainy season.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Norway signed a deal with Guyana in 2009 offering it as much as $250 million to curb deforestation, and with it, climate change. Trees are one of the world’s oldest and best carbon-capture technologies; they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, store the carbon in wood, and release oxygen. The money paid for, among other things, scientists from Winrock International to assist the Guyana Forestry Commission in developing a system for measuring the quantity of carbon stored by the country’s forest. Having carried out an inventory of its trees, the commission can now make educated decisions about which ones can be cut down without imperiling the health of the entire ecosystem. Guyana’s annual rate of deforestation has dropped to 0.048%, one of the lowest figures in South America and well below the 0.275% average for tropical countries.

The biggest threat to the country’s rainforest isn’t loggers or farmers but miners. Gold is the country’s No. 1 export, and there’s more of the metal, as well as diamonds and other minerals, under the forest floor. Unearthing those riches would likely imperil Guyana’s commitments under its agreement with Norway.

relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Felix Braithwaite performs a stump inspection for the Guyana Forestry Commission at a logging concession.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Oil, too, could pose a threat, albeit indirectly. A massive discovery by Exxon Mobil Corp. some 120 miles offshore could have the country pumping 1 million barrels a day by 2025—more than neighboring Venezuela. While Exxon’s oil rigs don’t appear to pose a menace to Guyana’s rainforest, the billions of dollars in taxes and royalties flowing into the government’s coffers might. The windfall will easily double the country’s gross domestic product, which was about $3.6 billion in 2018. Some of the oil money could pay for power lines, better schools, and improved health care for the 100,000 people who live inside the rainforest. But that also would require building more roads—which would make the area more accessible to logging and mining companies.

On the flip side, some of this infrastructure might also support Guyana’s fledgling efforts to become a destination for ecotourism. The Iwokrama Forest, a million-acre preserve, receives about 1,200 visitors each year, according to its manager, Dane Gobin. A grant from Exxon for a science program designed to attract international researchers and students could increase that number.

relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Chen Ming, owner of Rong-An Inc., surveys a log barge. The Chinese company secured rights to log 2 million acres in 2017. It has applied for loans to embed sensors on all the harvestable trees within its concession area, to track them as they move along the supply chain.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Guyana may yet prove to other poor nations that rainforests can be monetized without being cut down. But Gobin recognizes that the moment hasn’t arrived yet. “You can take the title to your house to the bank and borrow money. Why? Because the market puts value on a house. We need to see rainforest at that same value level,” he says. “Conservation has to be market-driven. The long-term benefits of a healthy forest are more valuable than the short-term profits from logging or mining.”

relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Ryerson Hazel works for Superior Woods, a Guyanese-owned timber producer and exporter. The lumber in the photo comes from the purpleheart tree, whose dull brown wood turns a deep eggplant purple after it’s cut and then fades over time. Tropical hardwoods are much in demand in Asia, where local supplies have been decimated.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
An indigenous man dives into the Aruka River. Guyana is home to nine indigenous tribes, but they make up less than 10% of the population. The black water indicates that it’s clean. The roots of the rainforest dye the water black.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Canadian-owned Aurora Gold Mine is the largest such operation in Guyana. Trucks haul ore to be crushed and mixed with cyanide, which leaches out the precious metal.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
A lone tropical hardwood tree left standing in an area clear-cut for the site.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Winston Bumbury is one of 136 Amerindians employed by French company Amazon Caribbean Guyana Ltd. to harvest manicole palm, a native species whose tender heart is a delicacy in many countries. The palm takes just three to five years to regrow, compared with 60 years for a hardwood tree. “Manicole grows fast and wild,” says Chief Executive Officer Jean-François Gerin. “All you have to do is harvest it in a sustainable way.”
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
relates to How to Make Money Off Rainforests Without Cutting Them Down
Guarding logs for export to China on a barge in the Essequibo River.
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUCAS FOGLIA FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s