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Cash-strapped Iwokrama gets govt grant

The Iwokrama Canopy walkway (photo from iwokramacanopywalkway.com)

Cabinet has approved a US$100,000 grant to the Iwokrama International Center for Rainforest Conservation, following an appeal made by the Minister of Governance with Responsibility for the National Patrimony Raphael Trotman.

This will be used to address what was described by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon as the organisation’s, “very sorry situation”.

Minister Harmon, at his weekly post-Cabinet briefing today, said that Cabinet was advised that the center was unable to meet its operational expenses, as “It could not pay its staff and some other expenses could not be met.” The grant will enable Iwokrama to continue operations until the end of 2015, he added.

This was revealed by a review committee, comprising Minister Trotman as Chairman, Ministry of the Presidency Representatives Major Gen (rtd.) Joseph Singh and Clayton Hall, Iwokrama Representatives Dane Gobin and Dr. Raquel Thomas, Conservation International Representative Dr. David Singh, Protected Areas Commissioner Damian Fernandes and Representatives of the Ministries of Tourism, Indigenous People’s Affairs and Public Infrastructure. Minister Harmon said this committee, which has been given instructions to begin its work immediately, will review the center’s operations and make recommendations as to the way forward.

Asked about the apparent lack of funding for Iwokrama, despite the presence of several high profile personalities such as Board Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and Patron Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, Minister Harmon said the latter “seems to have been distracted by other commitments internationally and therefore the kind of attention which the Board expected from his patronage, they have not received it. This is the report that I have.”

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma who recently visited Guyana also declared that his organisation was unable to fund any of the work of Iwokrama at this time. He explained that given the reduced funding inflow to the Iwokrama Center, the aforementioned review was deemed necessary, “so we can look at some new models as to how best we can bet utilise that pristine rainforest that was a reserve not just for Guyana but for the benefit of the world”.

Among the measures to be considered is promoting of Iwokrama as an eco-tourism destination to realise more funding. The proposed road from Lethem to Linden passes through the protected nature reserve and this factor will also be taken into consideration, the Minister said, to put “certain by-pass arrangements in place”. 

Comprising 371,000 hectares or 2% of Guyana’s forests, the Iwokrama Centre was established in 1996 to manage the area, following signature the year before of an international agreement between the Guyana Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Enshrined in an Act of the Guyana Parliament, the agreement gave the Centre the mandate to “promote the conservation and the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rainforests in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general”.

 The rainforest is equally divided (for experimental purposes) into a wilderness preserve and a sustainable utilisation area. There have been for the last 12 years intensive baseline studies of the forest and the development of models for sustainable forest management in close co-operation with the local communities. The first five years of the Centre’s closely supervised and scientifically based sustainable timber operation came to an end early in 2012 and the Centre is now exploring a second phase operation.