Gov’t engages Ituni loggers

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman

…MNR, GFC looking to bring long-term solution to community …recommendations made for diversifying its economy

By Vanessa Braithwaite

MINISTER of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, on Monday met with representatives of the Ituni Small Loggers Association (ISLA), following protest action by some of its members calling for urgent intervention by the Government in a situation they described as their bread and butter.

Logging is the main economic activity in Ituni and the community’s entire economy depends on it. The ISLA currently has 82 members and 35 tags were equally distributed to each member in June. This has been exhausted and the next quota will be received in January, according to member Keon Liverpool, on a live facebook post. As a result of the situation, loggers he said are finding it hard to feed their families and send their children to school. “The community is already in some kind of disaster, whereby people can hardly provide food for their family; they could hardly send their children to school. Some people may find it easy but most find it hard, I am not criticising the Government of Guyana, all I am asking for is help,” he said. Liverpool said that the protest is not politically motivated but just an avenue used to get the attention of the relevant authorities.

Secretary of ISLA, Linden Duncan, related that the situation started when the Association exhausted its tags to distribute to members. He said that the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) is cognizant that the remaining quota is minimal but additional tags will not be handed out, if the Association does not submit its production register, which will allow the Commission to verify what was harvested from the quota given and what is remaining. “This was not done, since some members are reluctant to furnish the office with the information for whatever tags they have on hand,” Duncan related.

ISLA secretary Linden Duncan

He said the Association is currently harvesting the quota that has been allotted for 2020 and so even if the documents are submitted, this time next year, the situation will reoccur. Members are calling for more lands to be made available to them, and not just the limited amount at present, since the quota has to be divided up equally among all 82 members. This is especially critical for their community they believe, since that is their main source of bread and butter.

Regional officials immediately mobilised efforts to attract the attention of Minister Trotman, who wasted no time in meeting with the representatives. He also met with the Upper Berbice Agriculture and Forests Producers Associations and the Aroaima Forest and Agriculture Producers Association. Member of Parliament, Jermaine Figueira and Ituni Community Development Officer, Keisha McKane, and Deputy and Senior Officers of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), including Deputy Commissioner Gavin Agard, were also present.

This newspaper was told that that the Association’s representative explained their plight and amicable solutions were put to the table to enable the community to access more forestry lands. The GFC is evaluating lands at the moment to see how soon concessions can be expedited for Ituni.

While solutions were brought to the fore to see how immediate relief can be brought to the loggers, Minister Trotman is looking at more long term solutions to enable Ituni to become more sustainable, going forward. Duncan related that the minister asked for two weeks to engage the Commissioner of GFC, James Singh, and the Board of Directors, for them to determine what is the best way forward. The other issues raised, he said the minister also agreed to follow up on and gave his commitment to have them addressed.
Move to value added

While moves were made by the Association to add value to the logs by manufacturing timber products, Duncan related that much success has not been garnered, despite securing some equipment, as the process to transition from a friendly society to a Coop is quite slothful. He is calling on the Department of Cooperatives, to expedite this process. Duncan is positive that moving towards value added production will address some of the financial issues facing members. He is calling on government to consider having some of the finances earned from the REDD+ and the Low Carbon Development Initiative to be pumped into these communities that are heavily dependent on logging. “We are severely affected by these requirements resulting from these ideas and we are not talking about workshops, this must be with streaming start up activities.”

Member of Parliament Audwin Rutherford also echoed the belief that the ultimate solution to the issue is that diversification needs to occur earliest. “We have to pick up the mantle, seek out farmlands and pursue agriculture and also add value to the wood,” Rutherford said. The Ministry of Agriculture has hosted some agriculture training to equip residents with the skills to pursue various forms of agriculture. A shade house was also promised to the community, to start communal agriculture.