Guyana uses forest conservation to extend land titling for indigenous people

Following years of work, the North Rupununi village of Yupukari is now benefitting from a land extension of 145 square miles-three times the original size of the village.

Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Honourable Pauline Sukhai, along with members from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a team of diplomats from the Kingdom of Norway, joined the celebration of this momentous occasion on May 11, during a visit to the village. This was done as part of the Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) programme under the first phase of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

Guyana’s Rupununi Savannahs

The ALT programme seeks to accelerate the legal demarcation and titling of Amerindian lands.

“This project, funded by the payments we received from the Kingdom of Norway, is being utilised to ensure that the lives of our people are enhanced, that their rights are enhanced and that their livelihood can improve through the support that we are receiving, and that our first people are not excluded from this partnership.

The extension in many villages is way above what they originally had titled to them. This means that the Amerindian Act which speaks to the opportunity to apply for an extension, is working,” Minister Sukhai said.

Recently accredited Norwegian Ambassador to Guyana, His Excellency Odd Magne Ruud, related the importance of protecting the rights of Amerindians, and how this is directly tied to the conservation of Guyana’s forests.

“Indigenous people are the best protectors of the land and the forest- sustainable use of the forest,” the ambassador said.

Ruud added, “We want to complete this project with the land titling because we think that land titling is one of the most important issues for you; being masters of your own territory having being decisions of your own territory, and we think that that is very important.”

With this extension, villagers expressed that they are able to utilise more of the land for more economic activities such as agriculture and logging.

Importantly under this ALT programme, 13 villages were issued with absolute grants, including Yupukari, bringing the total number of Amerindian villages titled with Absolute Grants to 109. Twenty-one villages were demarcated and 19 were issued with Certificates of Title in what is said to be the final step in the titling process. This brought the total number of villages demarcated and issued with Certificates of Title to 96.

A Grievance Redress Mechanism (GRM) was established as an alternative for helping to resolve disputes. Twenty-three persons were trained as GRM liaisons, 254 community members were trained in mediation and 328 persons were part of cluster awareness exercises on the core function of the GRM.

Amerindians total approximately 14 per cent of Guyana’s population and currently own in excess of 15.65 per cent of Guyana’s territory, up from about 6 per cent in the early 1990s.

Yupukari is an indigenous village of Macushi and Wapishana Amerindians in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region of Guyana. It is located between the Kanuku and Pakaraima Mountains along the Rupununi River.