Guyana

Supporting large-scale land claims and territorial security in one of South America’s critical ecosystems

2020

Started working in 1995

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Work with partners representing 97 communities

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Support community forest monitoring on 12.2 million acres of Indigenous land

Our Work

Guyana is comprised of 10 regions. Rainforest Foundation US focuses its work in regions 7, 8 and 9, which comprise much of the country’s mountainous interior. We also work in regions 1 and 2, which are home to a number of coastal Indigenous communities that protect and restore carbon-rich mangrove ecosystems.

Our primary work in Guyana revolves around three strategic priorities: advancing land rights, protecting and monitoring territories, and strengthening regional Indigenous governing bodies, known as District Councils.

Our current initiatives in Guyana include:

Land Rights

Rainforest Foundation US works with the South Rupununi, North Pakaraimas, Moruca, and Upper Mazaruni District Councils providing legal support to advance land rights, analyze legislation, and safeguard the rights of Indigenous peoples in the country. Land titles are crucial for Guyanese Indigenous peoples not only because their lives and identities are intrinsically tied to their lands, but also because many of their rights under national law are derived from holding land titles. Presently, only a fraction of ancestral Indigenous territories are legally recognized. We also support our partners at the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) in advocating for the revision of crucial legislation, in particular the 2006 Amerindian Act, to meet international standards.

In addition to formal land titles, we also support two district councils in the development of conservation oriented land-use plans for large areas of untitled customary lands. These lands, critical for hunting, fishing, and spiritual practices, face mounting threats from mining operations. Conservation-oriented land-use plans strengthen Indigenous claims to these geographies and may result in recognition as Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs).

Territorial Protection

Rainforest Foundation US supports the monitoring of 12.2 million acres of Indigenous peoples’ land throughout Guyana. We work along with Wapichan, Macushi, Patamona, Arekuna, and Akawaio communities to monitor and protect their rainforest territories from mining and other threats. In 2015, the Wapichan people received 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.

Organizational Strengthening

Rainforest Foundation US supports District Councils to strengthen internal governance and operations systems, emphasizing the crucial roles of youth and women. Women are spearheading livelihood initiatives to secure control over their lands and resources sustainably, while youth are being trained to become the next generation of leaders. Our efforts are heavily focused on grassroots capacity building through the implementation of a Community Paralegals program. This initiative aims to reduce barriers to accessing justice. The paralegals are a diverse group of community members, including elders, women, and youth, who receive training on a variety of topics. These topics range from understanding carbon markets to ensuring the enforcement of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.

Special Initiative: Land Tenure Assessments

Rainforest Foundation US has partnered with the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) since 2015 to facilitate a nation-wide assessment of Indigenous peoples’ 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

Rainforests

Guyana is one of the most densely forested countries in South America, with rainforests covering nearly 91% of its landmass—an area larger than Washington state. As part of the unique geological formation known as the Guiana Shield, Guyana’s rainforests are instrumental in regulating rainfall throughout the Amazon basin, significantly impacting global climate regulation. Protecting this vital ecosystem is critical for the health of the region and in mitigating climate change.

Guyana’s rugged interior is a blend of towering mountains, sprawling savannas, and vast rainforests. This biodiverse haven hosts around 4% of all known animal species, including iconic Amazonian species such as jaguars, giant river otters, harpy eagles, tapirs, giant anteaters, and giant armadillos. The distinctive tepui formations and natural savannas in Guyana lead to exceptionally high levels of endemism, meaning many species are unique to this specific geographic location.

Indigenous Peoples

Guyana is home to nine distinct Indigenous peoples, comprising nearly 80,000 individuals or about 11% of the country’s population; the majority reside in the country’s interior, across 250 communities. These communities hold titles to some 18% of the forested territories, although their traditional lands extend even further.

The Amerindian Act—established in 2006—serves as the country’s legal framework for Indigenous people’s governance and land management. Unfortunately, it contains many outdated and misguided clauses that severely undermine territorial security for Indigenous peoples. Passing comprehensive reforms to the Act is one of the highest priorities for the Indigenous movement in Guyana.

Although 96 Indigenous territories are officially recognized, they encompass only a fraction of the actual Indigenous customary lands; and even titled territories remain vulnerable to threats from extractive industries. Dozens of communities are currently seeking collective titles to protect their forests and the surrounding savannahs that are essential for hunting, fishing, and other traditional practices.

Threats

Mining for gold, diamonds, and bauxite is a major driver of forest degradation and deforestation in Guyana. Illegal mining not only devastates Guyana’s forests but also pollutes vital water sources that communities depend on for fisheries, drinking, bathing, and cooking.

Between 2001 and 2022, Guyana lost nearly 600,000 acres of tree cover, a concerning trend exacerbated by illicit logging. While many logging activities are legal on paper, rampant corruption combined with weak law enforcement often results in over-harvesting and logging outside approved areas, leading to conflicts with Indigenous communities.

Guyana is currently a net carbon sink, maintaining relatively low deforestation rates compared to other countries in the region. However, the discovery of some of the world’s largest offshore oil reserves has the potential to change this status dramatically. While oil drilling means increased financial resources for Guyana, it also poses new potential risks for previously isolated Indigenous communities in the interior of the country, following an increase in large-scale development projects, including roads, agribusiness, and energy infrastructure.

In 2020, the Guyanese government placed all of the country’s forests on the carbon market, pledging to protect them in exchange for investments. While this may sound like a positive step to halt deforestation, the move drew criticism from regional and national Indigenous organizations, which cited an inadequate consultation process around a deal that involves their lands. The first deal, worth $750 million, was tendered by oil company Hess Corporation, further highlighting the controversial role of fossil fuel companies in the carbon offset market and other schemes aimed at combating climate change.

Looping video of mining in Arau, Guyana. Credit: Michael McGarrell, Amerindian Peoples Association

Partners

Take Action Against Climate Change

Rainforests absorb and store more carbon dioxide than all other types of forests, making rainforest protection one of the most effective solutions to climate change. Support Indigenous peoples on the frontlines of rainforest protection.

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APA – Amerindian Peoples Association

Amerindian Peoples Association is the leading indigenous organization in Guyana. APA has active members in over 60 indigenous villages and regional representatives across Guyana, as well as a national secretariat in Georgetown. RFUS partners with APA in their efforts to advocate for land rights and expanded titling, national policy change, and to strengthen local and regional indigenous governance institutions. 

SRDC – South Rupununi District Council

South Rupununi District Council is the representative body of the elected Chiefs (“Toshaos”) of the 21 Wapichan communities in southern Guyana. RFUS supports SRDC to acquire title to the collective Wapichan area, protecting the headwaters of Guyana’s major rivers, addressing mining threats and securing the border with Brazil.

NPDC – North Pakaraimas District Council

North Pakaraimas District Council is the representative body of the Patamona and Macushi indigenous peoples. The NPDC holds title to roughly 333,284 hectares of village land–26% of their ancestral lands. RFUS supports NPDC to map the lands outside village boundaries and to determine the best way to conserve these lands in the face of expanding mining operations and other threats.

MDC – Moruca District Council

Moruca District Council is the representative body of eight Lokono villages in a coastal lowland environment with extensive forest resources, mangroves and coastal wetlands. The eight titled villages cover roughly 31% of the traditional lands of the MDC.  RFUS and APA have been supporting institutional strengthening efforts, including developing rules of procedure for Village Councils and guidelines for implementing free, prior, informed consent.

UMDC – Upper Mazaruni District Council

Upper Mazaruni District Council  is the representative body of the Akawaio indigenous people. Communities in the Upper Mazaruni are engaged in a legal case to secure collective title for the full extent of their territory at Guyana’s High Court since 1998, while the government continues to issue mining rights to outside miners over untitled traditional lands subject to the case, without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). RFUS has assisted the UMDC in monitoring and analysis of the extent of mining operations in the region.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala
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Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.