Iwokrama, the green heart of Guyana
Congratulations to IIC, Guyana, for a successful FSC® Forest Management certificate, October 2016
by Maria Berlango, Soil Association Forestry Senior Certification Officer
‘We were invited to start working with a different Certification Body, but having worked with Soil Association in the past, we knew them, and trusted they would do it the right way.’
Iwokrama is an area of tropical rain forest in Guyana, South America, managed by ICC, covering an area of about 3710 square km –roughly the size of the UK county of Cornwall.
Read more about them and our involvement here)
An epic journey …
After some pre-assessment training in May 2016, Senior Certification Manager Janette McKay and myself set out on the two day journey in mid-September, towards the heart of the forest.
Travelling from the capital Georgetown to the field centre (just 300km) took 8 hours, along pot-holed dirt roads in jeeps. We finally arrived at Essequibo River, boarded a ferry and crossed the river to the edge of the Iwokrama Forest.
… to a very special habitat
Iwakrama is one of the world’s most pristine areas of tropical rainforest, home to some of our largest and most endangered species – the harpy eagle, jaguar, giant otter, anaconda, giant river turtle and more. 30% of species found there are classified as rare and endangered.
As well as this three meter long black caiman, we saw brilliant flashes of red from the green winged macaws in the forest by the road while we were approaching the field centre. Surprisingly hard to spot in the surrounding trees, their raucous calls helped to draw attention to their presence.
Though this was all the wildlife we saw, forest sounds – monkeys, frogs, birds, insects – are a constant reminder of what’s out there.
Following the pre-assessment back in May, the Iwokrama team were well prepared for our four day audit. Everything went to plan, though from our point of view, the high humidity and insect bites were a challenge!
The forest is divided into two sectors. One is kept as a wilderness preserve (50% of the total area). The other is the Sustainable Use Area. Reduced impact logging techniques are used in the Sustainable Use Area, notably directional felling. This minimises damage to the remaining trees and ensures logs are easily accessible for extraction, which minimises disturbance to surrounding vegetation. Less than 10 trees per hectare are removed and regeneration is left to happen naturally.
As well as many other species, the forest has healthy coverage of the highly prized greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei) and purpleheart (Peltogyne sp.) trees. Both offer natural density and water resistance that make them useful as pilings and decking in the construction of ships, ports and docks.
IIC is the first forest in Guyana to get FSC certification, committing to social, environmental and economic ways of working. As the programme grows and the benefits of certification become evident, local forestry and logging companies will be encouraged to follow suit.
For Iwokrama, the biggest challenge is to continue strengthening cooperation and engagement with the people who live in the forest. To be committed to this, in the form of work, training, consultation etc, is a key part of existing and future plans.
‘People have lived in the forest for thousands of years – we saw evidence of this in petroglyphs on rocks in the river.
The Iwokrama project has established long term agreements with the Amerindian communities living in and next to the forest so it was important for us to interview representatives during the audit with the help of an expert for the University of Guyana.’
Senior Certification Manager,
Soil Association Forestry
The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) manages the forest ‘in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general’ . It’s a not-for-profit organisation made up of many stakeholders – forest residents, local and national government, environmentalist etc.
Our first contact with IIC was in 2008.
In 2014 IIC received funding for FSC® Certification from the German Government (as part of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit implemented Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions Programme), and were keen to regain international recognition for their sustainable forest management.
Having established a good working relationship back in 2008, IIC wanted us to be their Certification Body again, and this funding provided the opportunity.
For more about the project, see http://iwokrama.org/our-work/
Read this article about the challenges of living in the rainforest: