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Guyana, UNDP sign US$10 million Amerindian land titling project

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh, UNDP Representative Khadija Musa and Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai sign the land titling and demarcation agreement. Chairman of the National Toshaos Council, Derrick John looks on (GINA photo)

Guyana and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Monday inked a US$10.7 million agreement for the titling of Amerindian lands.

Officials said more than 75,000 persons are expected to benefit from the project.

The agreement was signed at the opening of the 7th Annual Conference of the National Toshaos Council (NNTC). Funding is being drawn down from the Norwegian forest preservation services under the Guyana Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative.

Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh said the funds would be used to provide absolute grants to 13 communities and demarcate 33 villages.

“We believe very firmly that this is an extremely important initiative because it places it entirely within the control of the villages concerned the lands that belong to them,” he said in brief remarks.

At the end of the three year project, according to President Donald Ramotar, would mark the completion of a milestone for the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).

“When this is complete, we will have fulfilled our manifesto promise to the Amerindian people and the peoples of the interior,’ said the Guyanese leader. He took a verbal swipe against several unnamed persons who had written Norway to object to the land titling project in an effort to block it despite wide-ranging consultations. “Despite all the efforts to get all the stakeholders aboard, some forces were writing to Norway to stop this project. That is the depth that some have descended to. They obviously want to feather their own nest instead of promoting Amerindian development,” said Ramotar.

Figures show that 97 Amerindian villages have been already titled and 77 villages demarcated. At least 14 percent of Guyana’s landmass has been granted to Amerindians.

The land demarcation project is being executed by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and implemented by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission. Institutional support is being provided by the UNDP. Land demarcation is regarded as a key component of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) so that villagers would know the land that they have control over to opt-in to the strategy.

Singh hailed the role of Amerindians in preserving the flora and fauna long before climate change, sustainable development and environmental responsibility became popular buzz words.

“I have no doubt that even though that might not have been the language that would have been used centuries ago, our Amerindian forefathers without a doubt understood the strong nexus between taking care of our rivers and our forests and the long term well being of their villages and their children and their grandchildren still to come,” he said.

That comment came against the background lingering concern about the pollution of rivers and creeks- the source of freshwater for many Amerindian communities- due to gold and diamond mining.

Earlier this year, a group of Amerindians had blocked the passage of excavators to a gold bearing area in the Rupununi for fear that the operation would have encroached on their concession and also pollute nearby waterways.

Under Guyanese law, subsurface rights belong to the government and prospecting and mining permits are granted by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).

Guyana is expected to earn US$250 million from Norway for providing forest conservation services.