New research shows indigenous peoples and local communities live on at least 3.75 million square miles of land spanning most of the world’s endangered tropical forests—yet have legal rights to less than half of these lands.
Started working in 1995
Worked with partners representing 97 communities
Supported the protection of 4 million hectares of indigenous land
At over 87% forest cover, Guyana is one of the most heavily forested countries in South America. As part of the Guiana Shield, its forests play a key role in regulating rainfall across the entire Amazon basin. Its rainforests store over 5.41 Gts, making them a critical conservation area to mitigate global climate change.
Guyana’s rugged interior is a mix of towering mountains, sprawling natural savannas and vast forests. Guyana is home to approximately 4% of known animal species and 2.4% of known plant species , including many iconic Amazonian species: jaguar, giant river otter, harpy eagle, Brazilian tapir, giant anteater and giant armadillo. Unique tepui and natural savannas give Guyana exceptionally high levels of endemism.
Guyana’s nine indigenous peoples number 80,000 individuals, or about 11% of the country’s population, many of whom live in the country’s remote interior. Indigenous peoples in Guyana own some 18% of the forest estate, though their traditional lands cover much more.
The Amerindian Act, which forms the legal basis for indigenous peoples’ governance and natural resource management, is outdated and contains clauses that severely undermine territorial security for indigenous peoples. Passing comprehensive reforms to the Act is one of the highest priorities of the indigenous movement in Guyana.
There are 96 scattered indigenous land titles, many of which do not reflect actual indigenous customary use of the lands and are vulnerable to threat. Dozens of communities are currently seeking collective territorial titles that include the areas that are used for hunting, fishing and other traditional activities.
Between 2001 and 2019, Guyana lost 205,000 ha of tree cover, or 1.1% of total tree cover in 2000. In 2019 alone, Guyana lost 22,300 ha of tree cover.
Mining for gold, diamonds and bauxite is currently the largest driver of deforestation in Guyana, which also contaminates the rivers that communities depend on for drinking, bathing and cooking. Much of the gold and diamonds leave Guyana illegally, and are intertwined with drug trafficking and other criminal networks.
While most logging activities are technically legal, there is widespread corruption in both the award and operation of logging concessions in Guyana, leading to frequent cases of loggers taking more timber than their agreement allows or logging outside of their approved concession area. This leads to conflicts between loggers and indigenous communities, and forest law monitoring and enforcement are generally weak.
The expansion of rice and other large-scale agricultural initiatives is a new threat to the Rupununi savannahs.
While Guyana is currently a net carbon sink, with relatively low deforestation, Exxon’s recent discovery of some of the world’s largest offshore oil reserves has the potential to change this status dramatically, bringing an increase in large-scale development projects, including roads, agribusiness and energy infrastructure.
Rainforest Foundation US focuses its work in Guyana in regions 7, 8 and 9, which comprise much of Guyana’s wild mountainous interior, as well as regions 1 and 2, which are home to a number of coastal indigenous communities that protect and restore carbon-rich mangrove ecosystems.
RFUS protects Guyana’s stunning landscapes by working with indigenous partners to secure and expand land titles, strengthen local leadership, territorial governance, land management, and monitoring. Together, we are halting the external threats of mining and deforestation, especially in the context of the country’s recent oil boom.
Our current initiatives in Guyana include:
RFUS supports Wapichan, Macushi, Patamona, Arekuna and Akawaio communities to monitor and protect over 141,640 hectares from mining and other threats, particularly increased gold mining. In 2015 the Wapichan won the UNDP Equator Prize for their innovative mapping and monitoring work – including the use of community-built drones to monitor deforestation caused by illegal mining.
RFUS supports Wapichan, Patamona, Macushi and Akawaio communities to document customary use and traditional knowledge, through fieldwork, participatory mapping and ground truthing important sites, across the full extent of traditional lands and to develop strategies for advancing land rights and containing the negative impacts of logging and mining.
Policy & Advocacy
RFUS supports APA to advocate for the revision of key legislation, in particular the 2006 Amerindian Act, to meet international standards. Advocacy in recent years has also focused on national policies and initiatives, and how forests and indigenous peoples’ rights figure into various bilateral, and international agreements. RFUS also provides support to train youth to use video, digital media, and other communications tools to advocate for their communities.
RFUS supports the District Councils to strengthen internal governance and operations systems, particularly the roles of youth and women. Women are taking the lead on livelihoods initiatives, to consolidate control and sustainable use of their lands and resources and youth are being trained to prepare the next generation of leaders.
Land Titling & Legal Intervention
RFUS works with our Guyanese partners along with colleagues from the Forest Peoples Programme to provide legal support to advance land rights, analyze legislation, and defend the rights of indigenous peoples in the country.
Special Initiative: Land Tenure Assessments
Rainforest Foundation US partnered with the Amerindian Peoples Association and Forest Peoples Programme in 2015 to facilitate a nation-wide assessment of indigenous land rights in Guyana. The following documents represent years of field research and interviews with indigenous communities. Click on the images below to access the full reports.
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