Kumaka leverages carbon credit funds for sustainable development

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By Danielle Swain

danielle@newsroom.gy 

Overlooking the lush rainforest of Region One, a worn-out wheelchair faces what seems like a thriving farmland.

Ernest Abraham emerges from the forest like a mythical figure, his weathered face lined by 78 years. Supported by a wooden staff in each hand, he cuts a striking figure.

“I got this place when I was about 15 years old,” said Ernest, as a knife dangles from a cord around his neck, wrapped in an upcycled plastic bag wound with strips of cloth. “Since that time to now, I still live here.”

An Indigenous coconut and citrus farmer from Two Miles, Kumaka, Ernest embodies the spirit of his community. A satellite of Santa Rosa, the most populous Indigenous settlement in the country, Kumaka hums with a special energy, tradition and progress working together to forge a new type of resilience.

Ernest’s farm reflects this blend. He cultivates citrus and coconuts, drawing on age-old practices honed by his ancestors. Yet, he welcomes the knowledge shared by visiting agricultural officers, integrating modern techniques for a more sustainable future.

Ernest says that as he gets older, his love for planting grows, though his feet slow him down. “Farming gives me my independence,” he shares (Yusuf Ali for News Room)
An aerial view of Ernest’s farm at Two Mile, Kumaka, Santa Rosa (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)

A visitor to Kumaka can observe this duality, bustling with quiet activity, Kumaka is considered the administrative heart of Santa Rosa, and by extension, Moruca one of three sub-districts in Guyana’s Barima-Waini region, often called by its pre-1980 name, ‘North West’.

Kumaka functions as a microcosm of Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, with its vibrant market, mini-mall, government buildings and bustling businesses. A bridge connects Kumaka to San Jose, and speedboats ferry people and goods along vibrant trade routes, including the famed Atlantic-Pomeroon River voyage to Charity in Region Two.

Development here is driven by the people of Santa Rosa, who have a long legacy of leadership. The village produced the first Indigenous member of the Legislative Council of British Guiana, Stephen Campbell, a pivotal figure in the campaign for Indigenous land rights.

Kumaka is considered the administrative heart of Santa Rosa and by extension Moruca (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)
Stephen Campbell (right) presents the Amerindian Land Rights Petition to the British Secretary of State, Duncan Sandys, in London, England, in 1962 (Guyana Chronicle)

Long before European colonisers stumbled across the Americas, Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples have been the guardians of its vast forests. Deforestation rates in forested Indigenous communities are practically non-existent. An April 2024 article published by UNESCO states that “although indigenous peoples comprise only five per cent of the world’s population, they protect 80 per cent of global biodiversity, and the world’s healthiest tropical forests are located in protected indigenous areas.”

Studies across the Amazon, including research by MapBiomas (Brazil) and MAAP (Andean Amazon) in March 2023, show that deforestation rates in indigenous territories and protected areas are significantly lower than in unprotected areas. Indigenous lands in Brazil, for example, lost only 1% of native vegetation between 1990 and 2020, while private lands saw a rate twenty times higher.

For Guyana “at the level of Amerindian Villages, there is the lowest level of deforestation, almost close to zero,” said climate economist Pradeepa Bholanath in a September 2023 interview with the News Room’s Neil Marks.

In December 2022, the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART) awarded Guyana the first carbon credits worldwide under the REDD+ Environmental Excellence Standard (TREES). The Government of Guyana then sold part of these credits to Hess Oil Company, one of the firms drilling offshore in the country, as part of a ten-year agreement worth US$750 million.

Recognizing the critical role that Guyana’s Indigenous people play in preserving the forest, the Government of Guyana has allocated 15% of Guyana’s carbon payments to Indigenous communities under its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Kumaka, benefiting from this initiative, received 34 million Guyana Dollars.

“There is really no recommendation within the LCDS that would impact a community having to change what it has been doing for its traditional livelihood activities, its income generating activities. The one thing that is different is that all of those projects and ideas that villages would have had banking up for many years, there is now a way to get that done,” explained Bholanath.

But were the indigenous people consulted?

NGOs like the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) are concerned that Indigenous communities were not properly consulted or included in the decision-making process. In a February 2024 Stabroek News op-ed by Nicholas Peters, Advocacy and Policy Support Officer for the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), argued that consultations focused on the Government’s LCDS programme and that villages lacked information about the carbon credit sale.

In APA’s informed objection to the ART Secretariat, they argue that Guyana bypassed proper Indigenous decision-making processes by relying on the National Toshaos Council which doesn’t have the authority to represent individual villages. Further, while some communities have benefitted from the programme, others report confusion and mismanagement of funds due to a lack of preparation, Peters also contended.

The objections by the APA were rejected by the ART Secretariat. The APA appealed – and lost again.

The Toshaos Council has also rejected the APA’s arguments and contend that because they are a body of all elected indigenous chiefs, then they are the legal body to represent the indigenous peoples. The chiefs have backed the LCDS and the carbon credits scheme.

APA and other Guyanese Indigenous district councils met with Aster Global lead auditor Kevin Markham in June 2023 (Stabroek News Photo)

In February 2024 a project, valued at US$3M was launched to help indigenous communities in Guyana prepare village plans that will detail development projects for their communities over the next decade. It is hoped that villages will become skilled in developing village plans, executing their projects, and monitoring and evaluating the success of their ventures to know what works for the future and what doesn’t.

Maurice Torres, Interim Councillor, Kumaka, posited “that money needs to be used wisely.”

Maurice Torres meets with members of the LCDS Team (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)

 

Against the backdrop of Amerindian Village Council Elections in April 2024, Councillor Maurice says these funds are being strategically utilized by the people of Kumaka to bolster development on their terms, ensuring that growth aligns with the community’s values and sustainable practices.

This is what they invested in.

Investing in the Future

Climate change poses a serious threat to Kumaka’s farmers despite living in harmony with nature, evident in recent droughts.

Torres believes this underscores the need to use carbon credit funds wisely, emphasizing long-term benefits over short-term gains.

After village consultations, the community invested in water storage tanks for “268 households,” said Torres. Water tanks to battle dry seasons and cash crop farming grants to diversify crops beyond cassava.

By the airstrip, Les Wilson, a retired agriculture officer, has partnered with Vibert Torres, a retired Dormitory Master, to cultivate a wider variety of crops using the water tanks and cash crop grant. Their efforts include peanuts, a new addition to their repertoire.

“We had to buy tools, we bought fertilisers, we bought file and cutlass, basic tools and it came in good and we had to give a receipt to up to the cent,” Torres shared, laughing at how unsurprising acquiring these seems.

Les Wilson is excited about introducing new varieties of crops like coffee and jumbo peanuts to the farm (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)
Vibert Torres’ dream is to start planting coffee for export both locally and abroad (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)

 

Empowering the Community

Kumaka extended the use of its carbon credit funds beyond agriculture. Vulnerable residents like Jean Barbara Torres received assistance in building or repairing their homes.

“Well, I’m a single parent, I’m a grandmother and a great grandmother and I live alone, have no job because of my sickness,” said Torres as she stood in front of her new wooden cottage, sitting in a small clearing of dense forest as capuchin monkeys peered down from trees.

“Before I had a little house but it was so down that it almost fell down and then the LCDS committee members came around and they saw it and they offered to build a house so I’m very thankful, I’m grateful for that.”

Aunty Jean says she is thankful for her new wooden cottage built by Kumaka village with Guyana’s Carbon Credit funds (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)
Aunty Jean’s former house in Kumaka, Santa Rosa Village (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)

Education is another key area of focus. “I’ve gained new sets of skills, knowledge ‘cause I always wanted to do it,” shared Henry Phillips a young auto technician who received an education grant to complete the MACORP Excavator course in Georgetown. “Also coming back, I can give back to my community and it’s like another way for income for me.”

Henry Phillips is looking forward to serving Moruca with his new skills (Yusuf Ali for the News Room)

Kumaka’s story represents the challenges and opportunities facing Guyana’s Indigenous communities and the strategic use of funds offers a glimpse of a future where sustainable development and cultural preservation go hand-in-hand.

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