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  Young Forester Award: Rachel Murray in Guyana

 
Rachel's work diary

December 2005

The end of my project here is now upon me.  The last month has been action packed as expected.  Before I departed to Guyana for this work placement, a couple of retired foresters in Australia gave me some valuable pieces of advice;

1)     Plan to get things completed 10% earlier than you really need too.

2)     Make sure you find yourself a screaming place (to get rid of your frustrations)

 

Both of these pieces of advice have been ringing in my mind since my last report.

 

This month has seen me cycling to and from the harvesting area – even in the pouring tropical rain, tree spotting for hours upon hours, cycling to and from internet access in the dark, planting seedlings, holding a final meeting with the Makushi Yemekun Cooperative loggers, continuing to train a young lady in keeping books and computer skills, excluded from a meeting with the Guyana Forestry Commission, and compiling my final notes.  I have also now added donkey riding to my list of transportation options after participating in a donkey race at a local Cultural festival.

 

Late last month the Guyana Forestry Commission held a meeting with the Executive of the North Rupununi Development Board regarding the State Forest Permission area that the group of loggers I am working with is operating within.  I had thought this would be a great opportunity for me to get a first hand understanding of how the forestry authorities in Guyana operate.  Unfortunately I was not able to participate or even be present at the meeting and was asked to leave by the Commissioner for Forests before the meeting had even begun.  This was very disappointing to me as I am working directly with the NRDDB, and more importantly part of the reason I am here is to learn about forestry in Guyana. 

 

Exclusion by the Commissioner unfortunately solidified a few questions I had running around in my mind over previous months, regarding forest management in Guyana.  Amazingly, an estimated 75% of Guyana’s land area is forested.  As in any country, there are pressures to produce revenue from the assets that your country possesses. These pressures are definitely present in Guyana.

 

The group that I have been working with are a small group of indigenous people living, essentially a subsistence lifestyle.  They are timber harvesting to produce timber for their villages, earn a little bit of money and to create employment.  The project I am working on is a “Community Forestry Program”, however the group is often treated as a commercial forest operation.  Yet another reality of a developing country.

 

Nevertheless, the loggers and I have been busy this month trying to achieve all the things we set out to do.  I have to say, we have coming very close on many fronts.  I mentioned last edition that we were going to send some timber to the UK into specialty markets.  This project is continuing and should almost be completed before I depart. Again I was able to spend some time in the forest with the tree spotters looking for suitable trees of this project.   I have ridden out to the SFP a number of times this month, on my “new bike”.  Unfortunately my “new bike” has spent the last couple of weeks parked outside my living quarters.  It seems it is not really built for the conditions here in Guyana, bugger.  It needs some minor repairs.  I now totally understand why all bikes in the Rupununi don’t have any brakes or gears.  Ploughing through puddles of mud doesn’t do them any good at all!  Actually, you don’t need brakes when your wheels are chocked full of mud because you can’t move anywhere! One of the great things about the tropics is that you can get soaked in a massive rain down pour and not feel the cold.

 

The usual challenges were met again this month with regard to fuel shortages in the region.  This is one aspect of the logging operation that is often difficult to overcome.  You can’t run a chainsaw without any fuel! The loggers had the usual down time due to lack of fuel.  The trailer we built is yet to be tested, hopefully in the next couple of days.

 

I chaired a meeting of the loggers at a local Community Centre last week.  This was a very successful meeting.  During my time here, the group and I have made a few small changes to the organizational management, pricing schedules, financial management arrangements, and project planning that should allow the loggers to function more productively as an organized group.  Now is a very important time for the loggers of the Rupununi as they have a number of exciting opportunities awaiting them.

 

The training of Urmia in book keeping and computer skills has been ongoing.  She is learning quickly and has now been elected as the Secretary of the MYC at the recent meeting. This is a great opportunity for a young lady in the Rupununi.  Compliments of my employer at home – ForestrySA, I am donating my laptop to the group.  This will allow Urmia to continue to increase her skills with computers with the ongoing assistance of a Pro – Natura staff person based at Bina Hill Institute.

 

The Agriculture staff and I planted a number of the seedlings we have been raising.  After the initial shock of landing out in the paddock these seedlings are proving to do quite well.  The area is now setup for planting out the rest of the seedlings when they are large enough.  The total area is just less than 1 acre.  The idea is to set up a demonstration site where villages can view the advantages of planting Agroforesty plots.  The balance of the stock will need to be planted after I depart as the seedlings are still not quite large enough to be planted out.  The interows will be planted with produce stocks such as watermelon, bora and possibility tomatoes.  All seed for this project has come from local sources. As with the trailer building project the only costs involved were labor and the required resources are local so the project can well be repeated elsewhere in the Region by the villages themselves at no cost.

 

As the advice of wise foresters’ rings in my mind, I will have to complete a number of tasks upon my return to Australia, as time is rapidly closing in on me and my three and a half months here is coming to a close.  As I wrap up my final few days in the Rupununi I am a little sad to be leaving this amazing place where the local people are so friendly and the environment is so significant.  Despite the challenges I have encountered here in Guyana this has been truly an amazing life experience. 

 

Thanks CFA and Pro-Natura for allowing me this opportunity.

November 2005

Hello again from Guyana,

Well I have to say that time if passing by very quickly now and I now only have one month remaining of my placement here.  As with most development work, the longer I stay the more work I can see. So you can imagine I have been very busy this month and have certainly had my share of challenges.

 

This month has been both rewarding and challenging for me. One of my main focuses has been on the use of the State Forest Permission (SFP) area by more of the community.  I had the opportunity to give a presentation on this topic at the North Rupununi Development Board (NRDDB) meeting.  Essentially the presentation outlined the benefits of using the SFP for timber harvesting rather than village reservation forests.  Hopefully this practice will be adopted, however it is not without its challenges.  The largest being distance from the SFP to some of the outlying villages, and the lack of transport making accessing these villages with sawn timber extremely difficult.

 

As I spoke about last edition, job planning and costing have been an issue with the MYC.  I have spent some time putting together some simple tools to assist them in these areas using figures that I have collected since starting work with the group.

 

Early on it was recognised that extraction of timber from the forest by the MYC is one of the most labour and cost intensive parts of their operation. The current technique is to saw all the boards inside the forest where the tree is fallen with a chainsaw and then to transport the timber out to the roadside manually.  The men claim that “their shoulder is the tractor”.  This is terribly inefficent and has obvious OH&S concerns.

 

We have designed and are currently in the process of building a trailer to be used for extraction of timbers from the forest to the roadside.  The design is based on the logging arch, however in this case it is slightly modified as we have made the trailer totally from resources that were available in the village.  It is almost complete and we hope to test it next week in extracting large pieces of timber for a trial export of timber to the UK.

 

The trailer exercise has been great for using initiative, skills and materials that are available to build something that can be maintained by the MYC and doesn't need the services of a special technician.  This was a very important criteria of the new trailer as mechanical skills and materials in this location are very difficult to come by. 

 

I have spent some time in the forest with a crew spotting trees and discussing the species that we will send for the export trial.  This has given me the opportunity to spend some time walking through these amazing forests which has given me a more complete picture of the conditions out here.

 

I have also been working with a group of Agriculture staff at Bina Hill Institute to establish a small agroforesty area. They already have a functioning vegetable garden which is great as greens in the Rupununi are difficult to come by.  The agroforestry project has involved teaching the staff how to prepare the seeds for germination and also some work on preparing the site before planting.  Seedlings are now growing and we hope to plant them out before I depart.  This month has seen a number of heavy showers which will help.

 

I have also spent some time training a young lady that has recently completed secondary school.  I am taining her in basic computer skills and account keeping for the Makushi Yemekun Cooperative (MYC).  She is doing extremely well after only a few sessions, and is picking things up very quicky.  I beleive she is also enjoying the opportunity to be doing some work with computers as they are not available at the local schools.

 

This month also saw a visit from the Executive Director of Pro-Natura UK, Dr Norma Bubier (joint sponsor).  She was very helpful in lending advise on all aspects of my work out here and also shared with me her experiences as a young female working in Guyana, a predominately male dominated culture  This has been one of the challenges I have faced over the past couple of weeks.

 

Another challenge has been the competing requirements of the people I am working with.  These people have many other functions and responsibilities within their communities such as community projects, external workshops as well as the usual family requirements.

 

This month has been the most challenging so far, but also the most rewarding.  There have been many ups and downs, although overall it has been a positive experience and certainly one that I will remember for the rest of my life.  Working here in Guyana has helped me to appreciate how simple things at home can be very challenging to achieve elsewhere, and to focus on the small incremental achievements.  The rewards are slowly being seen in the small successes of the groups I am working with.

 

Until my next update, happy foresting to all.

 

22/10/05

I must apologise for the delay in this update.  The past few weeks have been very interesting in the world of Young Forester, Guyana.  Notable highlights include seeing 3 jaguars crossing the road (on separate occasions), a night boat ride along the Essequibo river, holding a couple of meetings with local loggers and members of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), discussions with the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and members of Iwokrama.

The past few weeks have proven an interesting lesson not only in forestry but in life skills, in particular in patience and persistence.  Getting people together in one place has proven difficult due to lack of transportation and the recent Heritage celebrations.  Many attended these events and were therefore hard to contact.  Local people also spend time hunting, fishing and doing community work such as replacing the roof on the Resource center (radio room)

Most recently my time has been focused on working with the NRDDB and the Makushi Yemekun Cooperative (MYC).  The NRDDB are in the midst of trying to negotiate an agreement with an external partner to work their concession.  The local community forestry group, the MYC are experiencing a few issues with making their operation profitable as they are very small scale and the NRDDB have a requirement to pay lease fees to the GFC.  For this reason a partner is required to make the having the concession a profitable exercise.  The NRDDB are not a forestry focused organisation, their main focus is community development, so our advise on forestry issues is well received.

Donald Thompson (my supervisor), working for Pro-Natura UK hosted a short negotiation seminar, this was very well received by the staff of the NRDDB, we have also spent some time on advising the NRDDB on a draft agreement that they currently have in progress.  I believe our input with this document has been very useful.

I have managed to hold a couple of meetings with the loggers of the MYC.  The first one had only four participants and the second managed 14.  During these meetings I was able to gain a clearer idea of the challenges these guys are facing, unfortunately one of the largest challenges is competition from alleged illegal loggers in a neighboring villages.  This is a challenging issue.  Allegedly some are cutting and supplying timbers to local businesses at very low costs.  This has obvious implications to the MYC as they cannot compete with these prices and still cover all of their costs including royalty and concession fees.  The problem is people are struggling to find work and income, so any way of doing so is a necessary reality.  Unfortunately working and selling timbers for low costs will keep these people well below the poverty line.  Somehow the price of timber needs to be raised and unified so that the local people can actually make a reasonable living.

The question is, how do we ensure that timbers are cut from the concession and not State Forest areas.  How do we ensure that the loggers are receiving the real benefits from their hard work.  We have some ideas which I will try to implement - watch this space.

Discussions with the NRDDB and the MYC have revealed some interesting decision making processes, technical, political and financial.  Unfortunately now the results are now visible and are not so favorable.  Resulting in low morale and a lack of drive all round.  It seems my largest task is to rebuild confidence and morale in the group of loggers and help to get things moving again. Until just recently before I arrived, the loggers had not cut any timber for a number of months, and had many outstanding accounts around the community.

Things are looking brighter now, although I would not say golden.  They have successfully completed an order just after my arrival and have more orders to complete.  For this group it is a small steps approach.  The answer in my mind is not to throw large amounts of money at the project to buy equipment, but to use what is available.  There is a requirement to streamline processes to make them easier, prior to introducing rapid changes in technology.  There are already many examples of broken down equipment laying dormant in the area because of little investment in building the skills required to maintain this equipment. 

From here on I will have 2 main focuses.  The first to help the MYC implement better, less time consuming extraction techniques, improve sawing quality and develop systems for reporting and keeping more accurate records.  These small measures will help to make this community forestry project more beneficial to the community.

The second is to establish a couple of small agro forestry plots, and also to educate local people of the benefits on nitrogen fixing plants such as Acacia.  I intend to involve school children in this project.

Unfortunately over the past couple of weeks  I have not had much of a chance to get into the field as the MYC have been experiencing trouble getting fuel to start their operations.  Simple things such as fuel that is relatively easy to come by in the developed world still remain a large challenge here.  These are the realities of the North Rupununi.

I did however have opportunity to go into the forest in search of Green heart seed for medicinal purposes.  The day entailed waking early for a bike ride to the forest edge, then a long walk until we reached the Green heart reef.  We had to cut our path, as this track had not been traversed in a number of years.  The forest is very vast in species number and my guide was able to share with me a lot of information with regard to timber, medical and traditional uses.  He was also not shy to point out a massive cat print!  Thankfully no sign of the cat!

We passed through a number of species mixes, the most notable being the Mora, Wallaba forest.  The Mora are huge trees with massive buttresses.  As with the Green heart, the seedlings of these trees propogate underneath the canopy, the floor is a mass of seedlings just waiting for their chance.  We collected a couple of Green heart seeds, they are the size of potatoes and made our way back to the village.

As always, transport has been difficult and is always notable. On many occasion I have had plenty of thinking, waiting for a ride somewhere!   In recent weeks transport has taken the form of bicycles (no brakes of course), the back of a Chinese tractor, an old Bedford truck, the tray of a 4x4, bus, airplane, motor cycle and foot.

I also made a trip to Georgetown to have meetings with GFC, Iwokrama, and others and to farewell my supervisor Mr. Donald Thompson during the middle of the month.

I would like to extend a special thank you to Mr. Donald Thompson for many hours of conversation and valuable advise.  His input has been very helpful on many levels. 

When I decided to study Forest Science at Melbourne University, I never would have imagined that I would get such an amazing opportunity as this.  Truly an amazing and broad ranging career path is available to a Forester.  I'm sure all you foresters out there would agree.

Until next time!

 

06/09/05 - 25/09/05

 

I arrived in Georgetown on the morning of Tuesday 6th September after a 44 hour haul across the world.  I checked into my room and had a well needed sleep.

 

The next few days I spent attending meetings with the relevant Forestry and Amerindian Affairs people before I headed inland to North Rupununi  - Region 9.  I caught a light aircraft from Georgetown. We made stops at Lethem and Karanambo. It was a great way to see the differences in the rich landscape, from farmland, savannah, rainforest, swamp land, mountains and rivers.

 

From the air I could see the villages scattered across the savannah, some of which I would be working with over the next 3 months. After landing in Region 9, I was taken by 4x4 to an Amerindian Village where I am staying for most of my time here in Guyana.  This area  is established on a savannah area that is surrounded by forest.  The forest is amazingly rich in species (tree, wildlife and insect!).

 

I was introduced to a few of the ladies and then taken to my room to leave my bags.  That afternoon I met the Toshao of the village.  I would be working with him as he is the Treasurer of the Makushi Yemekun Cooperative.   It just happened that I had arrived the day the Amerindians were celebrating Heritage month. There were competitions in Archery, basket weaving and other traditional activities.  That evening a local band played so I was able to sample some of the local music.  A great introduction to the village.

 

I spent the next few days meeting and having informal discussions with the key people that I would be working with from the MYC and catching up on some reading.  I took a bicycle ride out to the concession.  It is about 15km each way.  Currently the roads in the area are in a very bad way after the rainy season, also transport is limited.  Most people here get around by bicycle, usually they don’t have brakes either!

 

The concession is an area of forest that the North Rupununi District Development Board have a State Forest Permission to harvest in. This is a community forestry programme.  This is where the MYC come in.  They are a group of regional loggers that have come together to sustainably harvest timbers within the NRDDB concession for the North Rupununni and surrounding markets.  This is a way in which the people can earn a small amount of money. The MYC was only recently formed.

 

At the concession we took a walk through the forest and I was introduced to some of the tree species.  I also had a look at the work that the MYC had been doing.  All felling undertaken by the MYC is done with chainsaw, and extraction is also done manually.  This is extremely labor intensive work but it results in minimal impact on the forest.  The physical nature of the work requires many hours of chain saw ripping extremely dense timbers to produce a relatively small output.  The costs involved with fuel are also extremely high. We returned to the concession again the following day where I was able to see a couple of trees required for a small local order be felled and prepared for sawing.

 

One of the villagers has a generator powered lathe and creates decorative pieces from local timbers that are sold within the village and other local areas.  I visited him and we talked about his work, unfortunately he didn’t have much to show me as it was all sold! This is obviously a great thing for him.  I look forward to spending more time on this aspect of the local timber usage.

 

I have also had opportunity to go out with a group of villagers to cut some new beams required to replace a roof on one of the village buildings.  This was also a very long, labor and fuel intensive exercise.  It took 3 men, 5 hours to cut 24 beams from a fallen tree.  These beams now need to be extracted by hand and delivered to the village.

 

The contrasts between Australian plantation harvesting and that of the MYC are obviously astounding, however both are suited for their purposes.  It is important to understand that the MYC are local people, working on a very small scale, however they are very aware of the potential damage that harvesting can have on their forest.  One of their priorities is to sustain this forest so that generations to come can also enjoy the benefits of its richness for hunting, fishing, medicinal and timber products.  The challenge for me is to assist the MYC to become more economically viable without sacrificing any of the local values or the forest.

 

Mr Donald Thompson, working for Pro-Natura UK, who are supporting the develoment of the community forestry program and a traiining centre arrived last Tuesday evening.  This is his third trip to Guyana to work with the NRDDB and the MYC.  He will be assisting me on site over the next 3 weeks, before returning to England.  So far we have been working together on reviewing a contract document for the NRDDB. During my assignment here I will be spending time assisting the MYC in developing efficiencies in various aspects of operations, business and safety.

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