Forest CoverTotal forest area: 15,104,000 ha % of land area: 76.7%
Primary forest cover: 9,314,000 ha % of land area: 47.3% % total forest area: 61.7%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in defor. rate since '90s: n/a Total forest loss since 1990: n/a Total forest loss since 1990:0.0%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990:n/a
Forest ClassificationPublic: 66.3% Private: n/a Other: 33.7% Use Production: 34.9% Protection: n/a Conservation: 1% Social services: 2.4% Multiple purpose: n/a None or unknown: 61.7
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 15,104,000 ha Primary: 9,314,000 ha Modified natural: 5,789,000 ha Semi-natural: n/a Production plantation: n/a Production plantation: n/a
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: n/a % of total forest cover: n/a Annual change rate (00-05): n/a
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 2,824 M t Below-ground biomass: 619 M t
Area annually affected byFire: n/a Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 1,182 Critically endangered: 1 Endangered: 3 Vulnerable: 18
Guyana is a small, lightly populated country on the north coast of South America. About three-quarters of Guyana is forested, roughly 60 percent of which is classified as primary forest. Guyana's forests are highly diverse: the country has some 1,263 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and 6,409 species of plants. According to an assessment by the ITTO, forests in Guyana can be broken down as follows: rainforest (36 percent), montane forest (35 percent). swamp and marsh (15 percent), dry evergreen (7 percent), seasonal forest (6 percent), and mangrove forest (1 percent).
Despite its forest cover, Guyana's ancient soils are highly infertile and most of the country's population of 765,000 is confined to coastal areas. Guyana is one of South America's poorest countries and carries an external debt that is 40 percent of its GDP.
Historically, Guyana's extensive forests have been lightly exploited, largely due to obsolete equipment and lack of capital, but in the early 1990s the government began to make overtures toward foreign logging firms to harvest the country's "slow growing" and "heavy" hardwoods (ITTO) like greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiaei). Encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to maximize development of its resources to attract foreign investment, in 1991 the ruling strongman granted a 50-year, 4.2-million-acre (1.69-million-hectare) concession to Barama Company Limited, a Malaysian-Korean logging firm. Under the terms of the deal, Barama enjoyed a 10-year tax holiday, paid almost no royalties to the Guyana government, and was granted the right to log lands that had been inhabited by indigenous groups. With such favorable agreements, logging firms soon flooded to Guyana, which had some of the lowest logging fees and royalties in the world—only 10 percent of what most African and Asian countries charged at the time. At the same time illegal chainsaw logging expanded rapidly, and Guyana lost control over its forestry sector.
In reaction to the sudden invasion of foreign logging firms and in order to receive a loan, in May of 1995, the government issued a three-year moratorium on new logging concessions. Shortly thereafter, the government enacted environmental legislation and took steps to regain some semblance of control over the timber industry. With aid from international groups, the Guyanese government increased funding for its forestry commission to better monitor logging activities. According to the ITTO, the current forestry law includes a provision for a "conservation concession in which an opportunity value of fee revenue is paid in lieu of harvesting revenues." Thus timber companies can be compensated for leaving an area of forest untouched by logging.
For its part, Barama claims to be carrying out sustainable forestry and maintains that it only extracts two trees per acre, while minimizing damage to the surrounding forest. Its operations are monitored by an independent research center that carries out studies to assess growth rates and logging impacts. With such a plan, the forest could, in theory, regenerate in 25 years. Barama says that it plans to stay in Guyana for its full 50-year concession.
Today the level of harvesting in Guyana is very low. According to estimates from the FAO and the ITTO, harvesting is probably 350,000-400,000 cubic meters per year from an area of 6 million hectares. Commercial logging is presently limited by lack of infrastructure and high harvesting costs, political uncertainties, and the dispersal of valuable tree stocks over a wide area.
This is ITTO's assessment of the timber sector in Guyana:
Unlike most other advice given, the mission does not believe that pursuit of high volume and creation of competitive, integrated enterprises are the correct way forward. Guyana has a diverse forest resource with small quantities of unusual species. It cannot dry and process timber to a moisture content suitable for indoor use in centrally heated buildings in temperate countries. Although there are decorative woods and greenheart, much of the resource is hard, heavy, and dark.
Capital is expensive and extremely limited and therefore has to be used optimally, which means operating at the cheapest scale. Capacity for different processes may not be sufficiently compatible for a single enterprise to operate them all optimally. This suggests that specialization would be a better strategy than vertical integration for most enterprises.
Returns to Guyana from its forests will have to come through maximizing both added value and employment opportunities. The current tendency to export logs, especially at an average price of just over US$60/cubic meter, helps neither of these goals.
In its 2003 survey, the ITTO concluded that "there were relatively few negative impacts associated with forest harvesting in Guyana. This is not to say there are no problems but there are certainly no major ones. Negative impacts are almost certainly arising from increased chainsaw logging, especially on wildlife, but there is no objective measurement of these."
Mining is one of Guyana's most important economic activities—sugar, bauxite, rice, and gold account for 70-75 percent of export earnings, according to the WTO.
Gold mining in Guyana made international headlines in August of 1995 when a mine run by Golden Star Resources (Denver, U.S.) and Cambior (Montreal, Canada) spilled four billion liters of cyanide-laced waste water into a tributary of the Essequibo, Guyana's largest river. Initially, mine operators tried to cover up the spill by burying fish carcasses, but eventually they reported the spill to the Guyanese government six days after the fact.
The ITTO reports that mining (mainly gold but also gems including diamonds), particularly small-scale operations, is having significant environmental impacts in Guyana. Mining has resulted in widespread deforestation in the upper Essequibo region while mine tailings—including mercury and cyanide—end up in local waterways. The ITTO notes that "in Mahdia, where the population probably has one of the highest per capita supplies in the world of fresh water from the rainfall, the community has no access to a supply of potable water."
With gold prices currently hovering on the high side of their historical range it seems likely that gold exploitation will continue to expand in Guyana.
Deforestation rates are presently unavailable for Guyana, but they are likely low. In the first half of the 1990s, FAO figures show that Guyana lost about 0.3 percent of its forest cover annually, one of the lowest rates in South America.
Conservation and the Environment
To date only 2.3 percent of Guyana is protected, though Conservation International has secured some 300,000 hectares of forest in two "conservation concessions." With its virgin forests and the magnificent 425-foot King George VI falls, the country has excellent potential for eco-tourism.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.