Iwokrama will be the home of an International Institute for Biodiversity – President Granger

Dec 02, 2019  News 

President David Granger on November 30 said Iwokrama must change to survive while assuring that the area will be the home of an International Institute for Biodiversity to support its educational efforts.

Iwokrama International Centre.  Click here for more images of Iwokrama

“The Institute will allow students and researchers from the Continent, the Caribbean and the rest of the world to come to Iwokrama to study its biodiversity and to increase knowledge and understanding of our vital ecosystems,” President Granger said at the 30th anniversary of the Pledge of the one million acres of Iwokrama forests to the international community held at the Umana Yana.           

The Head-of-State said Iwokrama can no longer subsist under the old covenant which played a pivotal role over the past 30 years. The President said the Centre is part of the national patrimony and Guyanese, first and foremost, must bear greatest responsibility for the Centre’s future development, without cutting the umbilical cord of international cooperation.

“Dinosaurs became extinct because they could not adapt to change. If organisms cannot change, they cannot survive. Change is imperative and indispensable for improvement. Iwokrama will not survive unless it adapts to the challenges imposed by climate change. Change is taking place at a rapid pace and is improving our knowledge of the environment. Institutions which do not prepare for the continuous changes in the environment will become irrelevant,” President Granger said.

President Granger addresses guests at the at the Umana Yana

A section of the audience

The President said too that Iwokrama “will not be allowed to become a lifeless monument or museum or, worse, a timber grant or gold mine”. Iwokrama, he said, will not be allowed to become an environmental ‘theme park’ or the ‘playground’ for celebrities.

The Head-of-State assured that a new covenant will be crafted to ensure Iwokrama’s survival and success, in perpetuity. The new covenant will be functional rather than ornamental, he said.
“Iwokrama, under the new covenant, will be about education rather than entertainment and research rather than recreation. The Centre must become a schoolhouse for students aiming to study the sciences – biology, botany and zoology – inter alia”, the President said.

He explained that Iwokrama, with its rich biodiversity, is pivotal to positioning Guyana’s economy onto a green growth pathway. It is the key to protecting Guyana’s environmental patrimony, the President said.

President Granger said the pursuit of sustainable development cannot be achieved unless there is an unobstructed obligation to the protection of our biodiversity.

“Iwokrama, with yet undiscovered and unexploited resources, is essential to our economic existence. Iwokrama can teach the world lessons on biodiversity. Sanctuaries for the conservation and preservation of our rich flora and fauna will be established,” the President said iterating Government’s intention, with the support of international partners, to make Iwokrama into a world-class institute for biodiversity research – an academy of excellence to serve the educational needs of Guyana’s students for generations to come.

The Head-of-State said Iwokrama will be the home of an International Institute for Biodiversity to support its educational efforts. The Institute will allow students and researchers from the Continent, the Caribbean and the rest of the world to come to Iwokrama to study its biodiversity and to increase knowledge and understanding of our vital ecosystems.

“Iwokrama is part of our patrimony. It is central and integral to Guyana’s green development strategy. It will reinforce its emphasis by being a Centre of Excellence in education in biodiversity,” he said while referencing his visit to University of Guyana’s Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity (in October 2016). The President deems that visit as one of the most depressing experiences.

“I was almost moved to tears by the state of that institution. I saw a cemetery rather than a laboratory of biodiversity. It was a disservice to our nation to have allowed such neglect of an institution established to preserve the country’s biodiversity. Iwokrama will not suffer that fate,” he pledged.

President Granger said the new covenant, which will be unveiled, during the Decade of Development: 2020-2029, envisages Iwokrama as a ‘living’ repository of the country’s unsurpassable biodiversity.

“Iwokrama will become the home of all of Guyana rich and diverse flora and fauna,” he said noting that Iwokrama, will become a world-class Centre of Excellence for students and researchers interested in increasing their knowledge of our essential ecosystems.

The Decade of Development will also witness Guyana’s honouring its commitments to place an additional two million hectares under conservation, in accordance with our nationally-determined commitments under the Paris Agreement; pursue measures to preserve our biodiversity and ecosystem services and to proscribe the exportation of wildlife; and promulgate policies aimed at ensuring low rates of deforestation, improved timber-monitoring, a high level of timber legality and greater value-added activities in the forestry sector to augment carbon storage in long-use wood products and promote low emission, low-carbon development of the country’s natural resources, the President disclosed.

“Guyana has been a trailblazer in global environmental protection. Iwokrama has demonstrated how small states can punch above their weight in offering solutions to global environmental problems. A new era is about to dawn for Iwokrama. It will be developed into a biodiversity conservatory and a schoolhouse for studying ecosystem services,” President Granger said while congratulating the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development on its important milestone – the 30th anniversary of the pledge of the concession.

Iwokrama is the child of the Langkawi Declaration on the environment. The Langkawi Declaration was promulgated three years prior to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro; twenty years before the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in 2009; and more than a quarter of a century before the landmark Paris Agreement of December 2015;
The Langkawi Declaration, issued at the 11th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malaysia in 1989, sounded an ‘early warning’ of the threats to earth’s environment. The ‘Declaration’ identified the ‘greenhouse’ effect, the depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain, marine pollution, land degradation and biodiversity loss as among the world’s foremost environmental threats.

The Langkawi Declaration noted that many environmental hazards were transnational in nature and, therefore, necessitated international responses. It charted a 16-point programme for committing the Commonwealth to take immediate action on the environment.

The Declaration urged, also, the strengthening of “…efforts by developing countries in sustainable forest management and their manufacture and export of higher value-added forest products…”

Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rashleigh Jackson, and Mr. Lance Carberry were among invitees at the 30th anniversary celebration.

We must demand more for our forests – Iwokrama Director

The Iwokrama River Lodge.

In recent weeks, forests fires in Brazil, Australia and the US have brought home the stark reality and value of the standing forests.
On Tuesday, Director of Resource Management and Training of Iwokrama, Dr. Raquel Thomas-Caesar, made it clear that it is no secret now that the value of the country’s forest on the world stage has risen considerably.
In 2009, an experimental programme with Norway saw Guyana striking an arrangement to benefit from a US$250M cash deal in return for the country’s forests being protected.
With 87 percent of Guyana forested, and largely intact, the deal was widely seen as ground-breaking.
While Guyana has not fully met the benchmarks set by Norway, the arrangement has been extended beyond the five years. Since then, there have been talks about a new deal, with more players. But it has been largely that…mere talks.

Director of Resource Management and Training of Iwokrama, Dr. Raquel Thomas-Caesar

Many countries, more developed and industrialised, would have been targeted for a deal similar to Norway. However, there has been little word.
Dr. Thomas-Caesar, well known for activism on conservation, also holds the post of Chairperson for the Protected Areas Commission.
She was a guest on the “Legal Mind” on Kaieteur Radio on Tuesday evening, and was asked about the value of the country’s forests in light of the ongoing fears over rising sea levels, fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. She said that they have immeasurable value, and went on to detail various aspects of the Iwokrama model.
This year, Iwokrama is celebrating 30 years in existence. It is a conservation project, well known across the globe, after 371,000 hectares of forested area was placed for protection. Under the model, Iwokrama has been working with the Indigenous people in the area, cutting logs in a sustainable manner and even exporting it.
According to Dr. Thomas-Caesar, an outspoken activist and researcher, the Iwokrama model has proven that the forests can be protected and provide a living for its people if managed in a sustainable manner. It is not cheap; the project, which straddles Region 8 and 9, would require up to $300M annually.
Iwokrama has been making do with donor funding and assistance from local businesses and the government.
Dr. Thomas-Caesar posited that with donor funding under threat from the emerging oil and gas sector, there will be a need for a rethink for possible using the oil money to assist projects like Iwokrama.
The preserve is home to some of the world’s largest and most endangered species referred to as the “Giants of El Dorado” and include the Harpy Eagle, the Jaguar, the Giant Anteater, the Giant River Otter, the Arapaima, the Anaconda, the Black Caiman, and the Giant River Turtle.
As for flora, over 1,500 plants have already been identified, including Anatto, greenheart and crabwood and purpleheart trees. There are 500 species of birds including the Cock-of-the-rock, the Harpy Eagle, Crestless curassow, Crimson fruitcrow and Gray-winged trumpeter.

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