Guyana's Timber Feeding Frenzy


Forest Networking a Project of Ecological Enterprises 5/21/96


Rainforest Action Network reports that Malaysian and Canadian timber companies are actively pursuing huge timber leases (millions of acres) in Guyana's virgin rainforests. Despite a logging moratorium, plans continue for a huge timber resource harvest which will effectively destroy yet another ancient forest ecosystem. An appeal is made for letters.


Rainforest Action Network May-June Action Alert


Guyana is under siege by greedy lumber companies from Malaysia and Canada that want to get dibs on the fledgling republic's virgin forests, and take advantage of the country's growing pains.

Since last May, the Guyanese government has had a moratorium on new logging concessions in the country's extensive, mostly pristine rainforests. It was put in place as a condition of receiving a loan from the British Overseas Development Administration to strengthen Guyana's Forestry Commission. Since its transition to democracy in 1992, Guyana has been trying to safeguard its resources and create a workable economy.

However, the Forestry Commission has only six trained professional foresters to oversee more than 22 million acres of state forests. Tragically understaffed, it is unable to do a proper job, and cannot effectively collect royalties from current logging operations. As legislated, the logging moratorium will stay on the books until 1998, or until the Forestry Commission is up to speed as a regulatory agency. Guyanese foresters agree that it will be years before this is achieved, and in the meantime concessions are subject to minimal supervision.

In a disturbing turn of events, the Guyanese government has recently invented the "exploratory lease," an innocent sounding arrangement with potentially devastating results. The aim is to keep investors interested in Guyana, promising a huge harvest of trees in the near future. It allows the companies to devise their own forestry plan, and allows them to hew roads through the forest and construct lumber mills now to prepare for future cutting.

Meanwhile, according to Guyana's principal newspaper, Staebrock News, President Cheddi Jagan's environmental advisor, Navin Chandarpal, has been working behind the scenes to grant the Malaysian company, Solid Timber Sendirian, a 860,000 acre concession. This concession technically lays outside the jurisdiction of Guyana's state forests. However, to expedite matters, the government plans to legislate an expansion of the forests, then grant the company its exploratory lease. The company is already planning to build a $30 million sawmill, and spend another $200 million on processing facilities.

With leverage from Canada's High Commission to Guyana, the Ontario-based Buchanan Group is reportedly about to secure a three-year exploratory lease on nearly 1.5 million acres of forest in the Middle Mazaruni region. This unlogged area is the ancestral home of the Akawaio Indians. Industry insiders and environmental groups expect the worst. A 1992 independent report prepared for the Canadian Paperworkers Union noted that Buchanan "has a long history of doing all it can to avoid forestry, environmental, and labor legislation."

The case of the Akawaio is poignant, because their indigenous land title has not been resolved, and now their land is being sold out from beneath them. The lure of short-term logging jobs threatens to end their customary agricultural practices and make them dependent on Buchanan to survive. When the timber is gone, the company will move on, leaving the ecosystem devastated, and the Akawaio without their traditional way of life.

A 1995 World Bank study showed that Guyana's royalties, taxes and forest fees are among the lowest in the tropics-less than a tenth of those paid in most African and Asian countries. What's more, foreign companies enjoy "generous tax breaks and other incentives, creating conditions of unfair competition [for local producers.]" The report warns: "This kind of forest mining entails a boom-and-bust pattern of development that can be highly disruptive to employment levels, trade balances, and other factors of macro-economic stability."

Foreign-owned companies such as Sendirian and Buchanan have no stake in creating a sustainable economy in Guyana. There is nothing preventing them from cutting and running, just as they have done elsewhere in the world.

What you can do

Sources in Guyana say of the new concessions, Buchanan's is least secure. Send a letter to Simon Wade, Canada's High Commissioner, and tell him what you think-1.5 million acres of rainforest are at stake! Write him care of Canadian High Commission, P.O. Box 10880, Georgetown, Guyana. Postage from the U.S. is 60 cents.

Dear High Commissioner,

I am horrified to learn that the government of Canada, through your office, has been active in promoting the proposal of The Buchanan Group to log nearly 1.5 million acres of pristine rainforest in Guyana.

I am aware that large foreign investments are tempting to the government of Guyana, even if returns are short term and come at the risk of serious social and environmental upheaval. The Buchanan concession would jeopardize the biodiversity of one of the world's oldest rainforests, and destroy the traditional livelihood of the peoples living there.

We need you to do all you can to stop this proposal.

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