Guyana’s forests cover over 85% of its territory. Although most of its population lives in the unforested coastal region, the South American country’s extensive landscape hosts a variety of indigenous communities that have lived there for millennia. With a population of around 800,000, Guyana relies on mining and large-scale agriculture operations to support its citizens. With the rising price of gold in recent years, the mining industry is thriving. However, these ventures destroy the lush ecosystem and release chemicals into the water. The mining industry in the area accounts for more than 80% of deforestation efforts in the region. By finding alternatives, Guyana could protect its natural resources.
Impoverished citizens suffer from the impact of deforestation and emissions. Workers relying on the mines for income and communities who cannot move away from the sites face exposure to substances such as mercury. To avoid further destruction in the mining industry, the Guyanese government is working with the United Nations (U.N.) to reduce contamination by 2025.
Protecting Guyana’s Forests
An initiative under the Paris Climate Agreement, Reduce Emissions Caused by Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, aims to lessen the emissions caused within developing countries. Certain nations are eligible to receive financial incentives for protecting their trees. This protects their environment and increases funding for essential services they may need.
Under the REDD+ guidelines, a 2009 agreement between Guyana and Norway promised up to $250 million from the European nation. The Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) worked to create employment opportunities that do not rely on the destruction of the country’s landscape. This instead created jobs that helped monitor and catalog the region by working with the forests’ inhabitants.
GRIF allocated nearly $5 million toward small businesses that reduced carbon emissions. It approved 224 loans and 591 grants that helped to create 2,000 new jobs. Additionally, almost 4,500 people acquired free training for different important topics, including management skills, record keeping, agricultural stability and sustainable mining techniques.
Beyond this, it awarded 34 more Green Business Technology Grants to increase the development of sustainable businesses. Furthermore, 684 business owners underwent further training in viable mining and forestry methods. GRIF also financed 165 secondary school students through Guyana’s In-School Entrepreneurship Program, which aims to prepare children for different career paths to boost the nation’s economy further. Students who receive the money complete employment plans while learning about important activities regarding economics, architecture and food production.
Organizations Helping the Economy and Forests in Guyana
In conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund, the Guyanese government works with various indigenous communities to monitor the woodlands. Provided with updated technology, the government assesses the land and shares data with authorities. The technology also allows for several groups to receive aid. The government addresses the inaccessibility of water and food shortages in the southwest Rupununi region. These community monitors assist the economy and forests in Guyana, helping with environmental concerns and citizen issues. Several places are now receiving aid to support local schools and easier access to both food and water. This project also led to additional research grants for the University of Guyana’s Center for the Study of Biological Diversity.
In recent years, the nation has received money from offshore oil rigs run by ExxonMobil, gaining several billion dollars worth of taxes and products. The money generated by this deal between the oil company and Guyana improved the country’s economy significantly, with no adverse effects on its forests. In August 2023, ExxonMobil confirmed another deal with the South American nation, with a project that cost nearly $13 billion.
Since 2009, Guyana’s poverty level has decreased from 6% to under 2% of its total population in 2022. This consistent improvement provides economic prosperity to the nation. Although job creation continues to be an issue in Guyana, where the unemployment rate is now 12.4%, other problems, such as poverty and hunger, have decreased. Continuing efforts to protect Guyana’s forests show the potential to also protect the country’s economy.
– Abigail Dudley