Establishing an Indigenous Community Owned Conservation Area in Southern Guyana In 2004, historic legislation conveyed title for the Kanashen District of Southern Guyana to the Wai Wai people – the first communal land title granted in Guyana. The Wai Wai traditional lands cover 625,000 ha located at the northern edge of the Amazon Basin on the border with Brazil and lie within the Guayana Shield Region, providing a critical link in the cross-border Guayana Shield Conservation Corridor. The area is predominantly pristine tropical forest. Unique tree genera exist in the lowland forests; most of which is endemic. This region is also home to key endangered species such as the Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola Rupicola), Harpy Eagle (Harpia Harpyja), Jaguar (Panthera onca), and the Giant River Turtle (Podocnemis expansa). Unlike the many other areas of high biodiversity around the world that are rapidly shrinking and fragmented, the Guayana Shield in general, and the Wai Wai COCA in particular, offer great opportunities for habitat and species conservation within the context of an intact, functioning ecosystem and a culture that still understands it, uses it sustainably, and wishes to continue doing so.
The Wai Wai community of approximately 300 is located in the village of Masakenyari –
a village unique for two important reasons. Traditional practices are still largely observed, and it is one of the few remaining indigenous villages in Guyana still located within the rainforest. This project not only targets a new and underserved beneficiary group, but also a new geographic area and a unique NGO and indigenous community partnership that will protect forests, conserve biodiversity and reduce poverty.
Recognizing the need for sustainable management of their lands, both to preserve their traditional practices and to provide opportunities for improved livelihoods, the Wai Wai Community requested support from Conservation International and the Government of Guyana for the designation of their reserve as a protected area and for assistance in designing a management plan to achieve both conservation and improvements to their welfare. Under a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Wai Wai of Kanashen District, Conservation International Guyana (CIG) and the Government of Guyana (GOG), CIG and the Wai Wai Community will collaborate on the development and implementation of a management plan for a Community Owned Conservation Area (COCA), an innovative concept for protected area management, both in Guyana, as well as throughout the Guayana Shield Region. CIG will also work with the Wai Wai and local partners to assess and deliver the necessary training to build the skills of the Wai Wai to manage the conservation area. Potential projects for community enterprise development will be identified to promote improved livelihoods, providing opportunities to meet needs such as access to broader education and health services, cash income, and community development, that are generated by participation in modern society.
The requested amount of $50,000 will fund the costs of the Community Resource Use Assessment and Community Livelihood Evaluation and related skills training. These are participatory processes that train local community members to evaluate their resource use patterns and potential livelihood enhancement opportunities that will achieve their own development priorities while maintaining the healthy ecosystem that allows continued practice of their traditional culture. This will position the community and CIG to construct a well-articulated conservation and development plan and conservation agreement by June 2006 that can be funded through the Guyana Protected Areas Trust in return for sustainable management of biodiversity within the COCA, and will provide the initial training required for effective management of both conservation and human welfare objectives.