The Guiana Shield Initiative (GSI) is an ambitious eco-regional project, which aims to set up a sustainable financial mechanism to conserve the unique, intact ecosystems of the Guiana Shield. Without financial stability for conservation and without sustainable development activities, the natural resources of one of the few remaining expansive tracts of primary forest will disappear due to destructive activities, such as logging, mining, the advancing agricultural frontier and ill-planned infrastructure. All of which only result in short term financial gains.

Read more: GSI Results

The Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS for its abbreviation in Portuguese) Iratapuru was recommended by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment as a suitable site for a GSI pilot project. In March 2008, the GSI Staff and Steering Committee agreed upon the inclusion of RDS Iratapuru as a third pilot site for the Guiana Shield Initiative.

The RDS Iratapuru was created in 1997 and covers 806.184 hectares in the southern part of the Amapá state. It is located between the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park and the Extractive Reserve of Río Cajari, and is thus considered an area of great importance in regard to the Amapá Biodiversity Corridor. This corridor, promoted by the Amapá State, is a concept to combine conservation and environmental preservation with economic and social development, and thus promoting an improved livelihood for the local inhabitants.

A Sustainable Development Reserve is created to promote conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Brazil’s National System of Conservation Units (SNUC) allows families to live around and within this kind of conservation units, for sustainable exploration of the existing natural resources (flora and fauna). In the RDS Iratapuru, the inhabitants explore the Brazil Nut and other species with commercial value, like the Andiroba, the Copaiba and the Camu-Camu. Most of the RDS is well preserved and contains a large variety of animals, guaranteeing the existence of rare and endangered species like the Giant Anteater, the Giant Otter and the Jaguar. Existing vegetation species typical for the region include the chestnut tree, as well as several types of mahogany.

The area included in the RDS Rio Iratapuru is very representative of riverine forest ecosystems across the Guiana Shield Eco-region that are populated by local communities. Its use as an extractive reserve is representative of many such units in Amapá and Para, Brazil and sustainable use areas elsewhere in the Guiana Shield. The communities that live in and around the RDS Iratapuru are involved in the extraction of the Brazil Nut, which with the implementation of a factory, will be transformed into oil, flour and principally biscuit. There are about 39 families from five local communities that participate in the RDS. The community of São Francisco do Iratapuru operates as the guardian, user and main beneficiary of the RDS.

A management plan for sustainable use of natural resources is under preparation. Five percent of the area can be used for extractive activities, including commercial exploitation of new forest products. This could include agreement with cosmetic enterprise (e.g. Natura www.natura.net) to access genetic resources. This arrangement is intended to lessen the pressure from external agents and offer greater efficacy in biodiversity protection. Also, there ought to be an increase in community consciousness about their role, the environmental and, an expected improvement in the quality of life for cooperating individuals.

This very diverse area, both naturally and culturally, in Eastern Colombia is threatened by unsustainable use. The local communities, however, believe that “the day nature becomes an object of men, will mean the end of life”, and therefore they fight for the area’s conservation.

The Matavén area covers about 1.8 million hectare of forest with an immense biological diversity. It has five ecosystems, such as enclaves of savannahs in the north, caatingas (a semi arid eco-region in South America) and the most extensive flooding forest of the Colombian Amazon.

This region is also remarkable because of the way it is governed. The whole Matavén forest lies within one indigenous territory, called resguardo. This territory is auto-governed by the indigenous communities in the area, who have organized themselves in the association ACATISEMA. This association has been set up to assist with the integral development and the cultural and natural preservation of the Matavén Forest.

There are several threatening developments in the region. Firstly, the government of Colombia is interested in the oil within this area. Oil extraction would cause severe problems for the fragile ecosystem. Gold mining is also a real threat, as well as the encroaching coca fields, both of which threaten the existing flora and fauna and the local population itself. Lastly, over fishing the rivers is a severe problem. This is not caused by the local population, but by outsiders who fish in the rivers out of season and disrupt the fish’s mating season.

Currently, ACATISEMA is trying to get permission to become an indigenous reserve or a nature reserve, because they want to protect the heart of the forest against negative influences and developments from outside. Lobbying and investigating in order to fulfil this wish, might be one of the ways to reward ACATISEMA for their conservation work within the GSI.

In Suriname, the national government and the GSI staff have selected the North Saramacca Multiple-Use Management Area (MUMA) and the Coppename Mouth Nature Reserve as a GSI-Phase II Pilot Site.

It is located to the west of Paramaribo, and covers over 88.000 hectares of coastal area (an additional 12.000 hectares of sea, until the 6m-depth-line, is officially included in the area, too). The area is threatened by pollution (with different causes), the rising sea level, oil exploitation and several agriculturally related threats.

Currently, the Project Management Unit is still negotiating with the Surinamese government about the inclusion of this site as a pilot site, and how it will be implemented.

Iwokrama - GuyanaThe Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development manages the nearly one million acre (371,000 hectares) Iwokrama Forest in central Guyana to show how tropical forests can be conserved and sustainably used to provide ecological, social and economic benefits to local, national and international communities. For many reasons, it is a perfect site to experiment with payment for ecosystem services within the framework of the Guiana Shield Initiative.

The 371,000 hectare Iwokrama Forest and the adjacent North Rupununi Wetlands encompass an ecosystem with a wide range of habitats, including over 200 lakes, braided rivers flowing over volcanic dykes, 1000-metre-high mountains, lowland tropical rain forests, palm forests, and seasonally flooded forests and savannahs. The area has an extraordinary biodiversity, including over 475 species of birds, and the highest number of species of fish (over 400) and bats (over 90) recorded in any area of a comparable size in the world.

The area is also the homeland of the Makushi people who continue to live in the area and use the forest and wetland resources. The Iwokrama International Centre involves the local population in all aspects of its work. These integrating activities are the core activities of the organisation. In turn, these core activities support the businesses of Iwokrama. Integrating human needs and values into business development and conservation strategies, establishes partnerships with local communities. This way, they can assist in forest management and obtain direct benefits through joint business development.

In a context of ecosystem conservation, IIC seeks to develop global models for sustainable, profit-making, rainforest enterprises, integrating the private sector with local communities within a sound, regulatory environment. The Iwokrama Business Plan 2005-2010, describes four areas for business investment: Sustainable Timber Harvesting, Ecotourism, Training, and Intellectual Property and Services.

The Iwokrama Field Station. Photo by Guido van Es, © IUCN NL

Together, these areas cover a broad spectrum of forest-based businesses ranging from the sustainable extraction of timber to the sale of services, such as consultancy and research, based on the Centre's experiences and environmental services associated with carbon sequestration, watershed management and other non-timber forest products.

The selection of Iwokrama as one of the pilot sites for GSI will certainly be useful during the next stages of sustainable commercial development of multiple forest resources.