By Neil Marks
A monumental project, valued at US$3M (or over G$600M) was Wednesday evening launched to help indigenous communities across the country prepare village plans that will detail development projects for their communities over the next decade.
The project is monumental for four main reasons.
- (1) The small secretariat of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) will undertake the project of developing and ultimately implementing long-term village plans in all villages – over 240 – when in the past, like last year, all it could manage was 10
- (2) The funding the NTC is receiving will be spread out over three years, making the annual estimated funding $200M, or five times the annual subvention the NTC receives.
- (3) The funding will help the NTC to become a well-oiled machinery, equipped with the resources it needs to better represent indigenous peoples
- (4) Villages will become skilled in developing village plans, executing their projects, and monitoring and evaluating the success of their ventures so for the future they know what works and what doesn’t
What is the need for this project?
Guyana is selling the value of the carbon stored in its forests through commercial agreements and the first was recently secured with the giant American firm Hess for US$750 million.
A set portion of the money, 15%, is being paid to indigenous communities, but they need help to design, implement and monitor the effectiveness of their projects to benefit from the funding.
The help the villages have received in the past has been to develop one-year plans, but the Hess funding alone runs all the way to 2032. So now, the NTC is being given the money it needs to help the villages develop 10-year plans.
Often, there are gaps in expertise at the village to develop and structure plans. So, the project will help villages in effective project management.
What will the money help the NTC to do?
The NTC can spend the money on whatever it needs to help the villages develop their plans. So, for example, if it needs a vehicle or vehicles to get into villages it can buy those vehicles. If it needs to fly to villages, it can have the money to take those flights. If it needs more computers at its Secretariat, those can be bought. If it needs to attend international events to learn from best practices in other places or to share its experience with others, it has the money to do so.
“We are happy the happy NTC is willing and bold enough,” said Pradeepa Bholanath, a Senior Director at the Ministry of Natural Resources, when the project was launched at the Secretariat of the NTC. She has been helping to steer the project.
Bholanth acknowledged that the task ahead for the NTC is a big and complex one, but she was happy that the NTC was willing to take on the project. As the only legal entity that represents indigenous peoples, she feels the NTC is best suited to steer the project and would be ably supported by other partners, such as the government and Non-Governmental Organisations like Conservation International.
“This monumental project… will help us to take village planning forward in a way that I think will be fundamental and game changing,” Bholanath stated.
What projects can villagers undertake?
Ultimately, it is villagers who determine what projects they want to undertake in their communities.
“The way that (funds) is going to be invested would be determined by a village, expressed by a village, decided by villages in keeping with the Amerindian Act, and then implemented and monitored by villages themselves,” Bholanath said.
Ryan Toolsiram, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs
At Kwatamang in the North Rupununi, villagers decided on a casava farm to ensure reliable supplies of cassava, a staple food for Guyana’s indigenous peoples.
In nearby Woweta, they are making furniture and concrete blocks to support village projects and sell to other villages.
In Rupertee, they have bought a canter to support transportation needs.
So, whether to support their economic needs, preserve their culture, or generate employment, there is a flurry of activities taking place in Guyana’s indigenous communities –over 240 of them.
Funding for these projects falls under the second phase of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, the blueprint by which Guyana intends to push development through activities that have minimum to little impact on the environment.
The first phase of the LCDS was funded through a bilateral partnership with the Kingdom of Norway and what came into being was the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF). REDD+ is the United Nations mechanism by which forest-rich countries can be compensated for the climate services their standing forests provides.
It is funds from that agreement with Norway that is now being used to help indigenous communities develop village plans.
“For Norway a top priority in this new phase of Guyana ‘s REDD+ journey is securing a transparent and effective project implementation of ongoing projects funded by the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund, the GRIF. That includes delivering for indigenous peoples and recognising their crucial role in forest management, said Odd-Magne Ruud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Guyana.
‘Ideas transformed into reality’
The second phase of the Low Carbon Development Strategy is being funded through the sale of the carbon stored in its forests.
That carbon is estimated to be over 19 gigatons and keeping the trees standing is important because if the trees are cut down, that carbon would be released into the atmosphere and further worsen the climate crisis because it is gases like carbon dioxide that is causing temperatures to rise bringing about extreme weather events like devastating floods and wildfires.
The government has said 15% of the funds it receives through commercial agreements will go to indigenous communities. For last year, that meant the distribution of $3.8 billion.
For the chief of chiefs of Guyana’s indigenous peoples, Derrick John, this funding is significant.
“This money – it means a lot. We can see ideas transformed into reality,” he stated.