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( Feature by the Food and Agriculture Organization)
Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) make up approximately 80-90% of the Forestry Sector in Guyana. Many MSMEs in Guyana involved in timber production operate through the Community Forest Organization/Associations. However, they have challenges meeting the social, environmental and fiscal requirements of the European Union Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). These challenges are further compounded by limited knowledge of administrative and business standards and procedures.
As part of international efforts to address illegal logging and its associated trade, Guyana began negotiations with the European Union on the EU FLEGT VPA. This trade agreement between Guyana and the EU work with partner countries to develop and in Guyana’s case, improve tracking systems to ensure legal harvesting, processing and trade of timber. The VPA also contributes to Guyana’s sustainable forest management plans, including safeguarding forest resources for future generations.
With the initialing of the VPA in 2018, an essential step to implementation was the development of a Joint Implementation Framework (JIF). This multi-stakeholder process, was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) EU FLEGT Programme. The JIF focuses on the needs of all stakeholders (Civil Society, Government, Private Sector, and Forest Sector Operations). These needs include, capacity building, institutional strengthening, governance reforms and VPA monitoring structures as required for the FLEGT license scheme.
Focused on activities agreed to in the JIF, the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme has supported MSMEs including Community Forestry Organizations and Indigenous Communities/Amerindian Villages in collaboration with partnering government agencies.
Support to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)
Today MSMEs have the skills necessary to apply correctly for, and obtain, Environmental Authorizations, required for harvesting. These skills also ensure that the forest operations of MSMEs are authorized, in line with the Environmental Protection Act Cap 20:05. Specifically, over 300 Community Forestry Organizations representatives across eight regions of Guyana were engaged and benefited.
“I knew it was necessary for gas stations, but I never saw the connection between the Environmental Authorization and Forest Operations. Today I was informed about that very clearly,” said Naomi Smith, Aroaima Forest and Agricultural Producer Association (AFAPA), Region No. 10.
“Learning on the way to go today is a plus. We can go back to our community and enlighten our villagers on what needs to be done in regard to environmental safeguards,” expressed David Wilson, Akawaini Loggers Association, Region Number Two.
From the capacity building and awareness sessions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received increased applications for environmental authorization for MSMEs. EPA has noted that this is a step in the right direction and will continue to support efforts to address the limitations that hindered the application for environmental authorization.
Additionally, 500 representatives from 69 Community Forestry Organizations now have the technical tools to comply with Guyana Revenue Authority’s (GRA) Corporation and Income Tax requirements, National Insurance Scheme’s (NIS) National Insurance and Social Security requirements and the Ministry of Labour’s requirements including legal employment age, non-discrimination policy, occupational health and safety and payment of wages.
These agencies now have a new influx of Forest Sector Operators approaching their offices which they can engage with and relieve their fears about tax and NIS requirements.
“I ‘fight bad’ with my members for them to register with NIS and GRA. One month after our training, I take in all our documents to NIS,” said Ms Edmundson. Approximately one month after the training Ms. Edmundson worked assiduously to get all her members to register with NIS and GRA and was successful.
With increased awareness and capacity building to meet the requirements of the VPA, Forest Sector operators will be in a better position to comply with the Guyana Timber Legality Assurance System (GTLAS).
The FAO-EU FLEGT also supported sustainable forest management in Amerindian Villages. Members of the National Toshao’s Council (NTC) and Village representatives were trained in Forest Management, Administration, Monitoring & Evaluation, Project Management and Financial management. Youths were the target group for the Forest Management training to encourage greater appreciation and direct involvement in forest conservation and management as the future of forest management relies on their understanding and participation.
Effective community monitoring of Amerindian forests is critical for forest management and as such a pilot initiative was carried out in the Village of Bethany in Region Number Two. The village received technical support to design, develop and test approaches to community-based monitoring which ensures legal compliance in timber supply chains. Technical support also included the designing and testing of a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) protocol for obtaining the consent of Amerindian Villages in forest management in the context of the Guyana VPA process. FPIC will ensure that the rights of Indigenous villages are respected and protected, through internationally recognized standards and agreements such as the VPA.
“FPIC is something that could be vital, and it could be beneficial to our community, it will benefit our community. Monitoring our resources would help us greatly, and the villagers are happy about it,” said Harold Marslow, Bethany Village.
The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme recognizes that although much work has been done with MSMEs, there is still more support required. In this regard, we continue to support the priorities identified in the JIF for the implementation of the VPA process through the support of government agencies, private sector and civil society.