Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Change for Sustainability: Insights from North Rupununi

By Sunday Lizu, 2nd year MDP student

It was on the fourth of June when I left Winnipeg to what at the time was a known but unknown destination. The feelings, as it is mostly the case for anyone travelling to a new place, were mixed. Excited and expectant, I was headed to Guyana, a country that considers itself as both Caribbean as well as South American. My thoughts were that I was going to experience some South American as well as some Caribbean way of life, but much more, as my final destination was predetermined, the way of life of the Makushi, one of the Indigenous tribes of Guyana. My brief stay in Georgetown did not offer me much to talk about here but I did notice some rigid bureaucracies as I struggled as a tourist to get a phone sim card so I could reconnect with my family back home. I was told that I needed to produce a document (i.e. utility bill) that proved my address in Guyana along with my passport. This was hard as I had just arrived in the country and was staying at a guest house. It was a frustrating afternoon on the first day as we tried to make this happen. When it finally happened, with the help of an inside contact person known to our host, the sim cards issued to us were limited only to the period of our stay in Guyana. However, my visits to the two Museums in Georgetown (The Guyana National Museum and the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology) were insightful and provided an introduction to the political and the natural landscape, but of utmost importance, the history and ways of life of the Indigenous people of Guyana.    
The picture depicts the process of making Cassava Bread which is an important food to the Amerindian of the Rupununi – on display at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology in Georgetown.

A one and half hour flight on a twelve passenger plane is all it took us to suddenly keep the reality of Georgetown to memory as we were greeted by scenes of a natural landscape that has the savannah areas encircled by the Amazonian rainforests and mountain ranges. Beautiful scenes to behold that even from the sky the story tells of amazing jungles and river systems.  Welcome to the Rupununi. As can be seen from the pictures below, one taken from the skies above the Amazon gives a glimpse of the river systems in the Amazonian forest. The other picture however gives a view of the Savannah, habitable areas, as they are surrounded by the jungles and the mountains, seen in the near distance. One clear lesson learnt is that the people live at peace with nature and even the frequent visits to some communities by hungry desperate jaguars do not scare them. On many occasions, these wild beasts pay visits to the communities for easy prey such as cattle and dogs. But while, in the past, people had to defend their livestock and hunting companions (dogs) by killing these predators, the language now is that of living at peace with nature and conservation and though people suffer the losses, they no longer make the jaguars pay with their lives for the crimes they commit.

A view of the Amazon rainforest from the plane
At Surama – a contrast of the savannah and the rainforest


Tourism- Ecotourism is the big thing here, but next most popular topic that a lot of people in the communities of the North Rupununi have come to understand and educate each other on is that of natural resource management. From the eldest in the communities to the youngest, the message of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources resonates in every mind every day and is surely spoken about and discussed at various fora. We have been educated so far by both the young and the old on how to manage the natural resources sustainably and indeed the communities have adjusted their harvesting and consumption patterns so as to preserve the most important natural resources. I am meant to believe that the decision by the government of Guyana to give the Iwokrama Forests in the Rupununi to the Commonwealth as an international centre was the beginning of conversations around conservation and sustainable natural resource use in these communities. Henceforth, many programs, including youth wildlife conservation clubs were created for the education of the masses. Other projects such as COBRA (Community Owned Best Practice for Sustainable Resource Adaptive Management in the Guiana Shield) and the CMRV (Community Monitoring Reporting and Verification) have all come in to ascertain the impacts on the ways of life of the Indigenous peoples brought about by these conservation programs. It has been a learning process looking at how the people are actually involved in these programs. Lessons picked up on the sidelines of my own assignments.

Echoing the words of the Agricultural Minister who came to grace the graduation ceremony at the Bina Hill Institute on July 3rd, “Good things happen every day in Guyana.” I would agree that good things are happening in natural resources management in the Rupununi. For many years people in the Rupununi have lived on fish and wildlife while growing cassava from which they make the cassava bread and farini as well as the famous cassava drink. It is therefore amazing to note the change in the consumption patterns of the people and their interactions with nature. The message of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources has been understood and people from their respective communities are taking responsibility for the sake of future generations. The North Rupununi District Development Board, in partnership with various stakeholders in conservation, is responsible for a lot of the conservation programs in the North Rupununi. The local ownership and leadership of the projects and programs has facilitated effective partnerships that are producing good results.  
Sunday (L), Mr. Michael Williams, NRDDB Chairman (C) & Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, Minster of Agriculture - Guyana (R) at the Bina Hill Institute Graduation Ceremony

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