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—Godfrey Marshall bids farewell to Forestry Commission after 50 years of service
By Svetlana Marshall
With much humility and gratitude, Godfrey Marshall bade the Guyana Forestry Commission farewell after serving nearly fifty years, through a love for the country’s rich forest resources.
It was during his early years as a teen, while living in Bartica Housing Scheme in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni District, that Marshall, who once served as Deputy Commissioner of Forests and Director of the Forestry Training Centre Inc., developed a deep love for forest management, in a country where approximately 87 percent of its landmass is covered by forests.
For him, it was only natural.
In an exclusive interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Marshall said as a teen he was exposed to the Forestry Sector, with his father, the late Prince Albert Marshall, having worked at Wineperu. But his humble beginning in sector commenced in 1972, several weeks after leaving the Bartica Secondary School.
At the time, Bartica and its environs were not only known for gold mining but logging as well. In fact, there were three sawmills within the township, one at Kaow Island and another at Skull Point.
After leaving secondary school, Marshall gained temporary employment at Nagasar Sawh Ltd – one of the three sawmills located within Bartica – ‘pushing wheelbarrow.’ But even as he worked there, Marshall visited the District Commissioner’s Office (now known as the Regional Chairman’s Office) to uplift a copy of the Official Gazette to check for vacancies. It was then he came across a vacancy for a “Forest Guard,” in other words, a junior forest ranger, responsible for patrolling and guarding the forest, and so he applied.
In September 1972, he was required to write an exam, and even as he awaited the results from the Forestry Department, Ministry of Mines and Forests, Marshall, three months shy of turning eighteen, started teaching Mathematics at his alma mater – the St. John the Baptist Primary School – the very month, as an interim teacher.
By November 1972, he was interviewed for the position of a ‘Forest Guard,’ and about one month after turning eighteen, he was hired in December 1972.
Marshall, who is now 67 years old, recalled that as a Forest Guard, he was responsible for measuring, stamping, and determining the royalties for logs being sold to saw-millers in Bartica. “So, in Bartica, you had loggers cutting trees and then bringing them to Bartica to sell to the saw millers, and our job was to ensure that royalty was paid on every log harvested,” he explained.
He said it was important for Forest Guards to know the various species of logs being harvested, because royalty rates varied by the species, and in Bartica, alone, there were approximately twenty-five species harvested at the time such as Greenheart, Crabwood, Kabukalli, Purpleheart, Tatabu, Locust, Shibadan, Wallaba and Simarupa.
For almost seven (7) years he worked as a Forest Guard before being promoted to a Forest Ranger. During his tenure, he benefited from the wisdom and experiences of his superiors: Philbert Sutton, George Boyce and Rufus Boyan, who mentored him along the way.
Exhibiting apparent potential, Marshall was among four persons selected to participate in a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) sponsored-training programme at the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979 but all did not go as planned.
A YEAR’S DELAY
The news of the young Marshall being offered an opportunity to study in Trinidad and Tobago resulted in much celebration, for he was the first for his immediate family, who would be travelling beyond the shores of Guyana.
But after travelling to the capital city – Georgetown – with his family to uplift the ticket, amid much excitement Marshall was told that he would have to try again the following year (1980).
“That was the most embarrassing situation I ever faced because years ago, there were no speed boats, everybody used to travel with steamer, so me and the whole family came down, because Marshall going overseas now…We had a ball at Demico, and so when the CIDA officer sent to call us, we thought we were going to collect the tickets but instead he told us, we didn’t get through,” Marshall recalled.
For him, it was very awkward having to return to his hometown a few days after ‘going away’ celebrations.
“When the steamer touched down in Bartica, there was the usual large group people waiting to see who come, and there it was me strolling off with my suitcase, and people asking, ‘what happened boy,’ he recalled.
A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
For two weeks he stayed away from work, hiding from the taunts, but Marshall, nonetheless preserved, and in 1980, he was admitted into the forestry programme at the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry for a period of two years.
Upon his return in 1982, he was transferred to the Guyana Forestry Commission Head Office where he was appointed as a Senior Field Assistant. By 1986, Marshall secured another scholarship, this time to read for his Degree in Forestry in neighbouring Brazil at the ‘Escola Superior de Agricultura de Lavras’ for a period of five years.
For him, Brazil was quite a revelation. He explained that while many Guyanese at the time were seeking employment within the public service upon the completion of their studies, the Brazilian students, with bachelor’s and master’s Degrees in Agriculture or Forestry were returning to their family “farms.” They were entrepreneurs, in their respective fields, he said. He said too that all the lecturers, despite their qualifications, were all very humble people.
Marshall returned to Guyana in 1992 and was subsequently appointed Assistant Commissioner of Forests, then Senior Assistant Commissioner of Forests. In 1998, he secured another scholarship, this time to pursue a master’s degree in Forestry at the Oxford Forestry Institute in the United Kingdom.
He returned in 1999 with his master’s degree he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Forests.
“I was lucky. I was in the right place, at the right time,” Marshall said as he reflected on his many opportunities to study abroad and advance in the profession.
But it was not always smooth sailing. Marshall recalled when that he was identified to be appointed as Senior Assistant Commissioner of Forests, the then Chairman of the Guyana Natural Resources Agency, Winston King, who was also the Chairman of the Guyana Forestry Commission’s Board, declined the appointment.
“He refused to appoint me immediately and preferred that I be given an acting position, and he called me to explain why he didn’t want to appoint me, and I found that quite interesting, and I was impressed with his decision to call me and explain his decision,” Marshall said.
King at the time, had explained that the position of Senior Assistant Commissioner of Forests required the management of people, and although he was positive that Marshall had acquired several qualifications in forestry science, he believed Marshall needed more training in ‘people management skills’ to be an effective manager.
In 2002, Marshall was transferred to, the then, newly established Forestry Training Center Inc. to serve as Project Coordinator, and by 2005, he was appointed Project Director – a position he held up until 2014.
It was noted that early on, the Commission relied on the Tropical Forest Foundation for models used in countries like Brazil, where ordinary workers within the sector received critical training.
“So, for us in Guyana, the ordinary workers were quite happy for that training, because you might think that you don’t need training, [but] you can always improve your practices,” he said, while noting that chainsaw operators were among the first beneficiaries.
After serving the Forestry Sector for 42 years, Marshall retired in 2014 but was almost immediately offered a position as Technical Advisor to the Commissioner of Forests.
In 2015, he was presented with the prestigious Medal of Service Award by then President, David Granger. For him, the award was an achievement for his mother, the late Edna Marshall, who could not contain her excitement while watching the Investiture Ceremony aired live from the Natural Cultural Center.
“My mom, she was on top of the world, when she heard my name mentioned,” he recalled.
Last month (March 2022), after approximately 50 years of service, he bid farewell to the Forestry Commission, and was honoured by the Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat for his dedicated service to one of Guyana’s most important sectors.
ADVANCEMENTS WITHIN THE SECTOR
Throughout his 50 years of service, the forest expert said he had the privilege of not only mentoring Forest Grangers and Managers and regular people within the sector but learning from the many local and international experts and consultants, who provided critical service to the Forestry Sector as it expanded over the years.
As the sector expanded, the Commission developed Codes of Practice for Forest Operations, for which Marshall was among those who helped to craft the first drafts it in consultation with stakeholders.
“Initially, it was quite a tedious effort to get people to agree on certain practices…At the time, we were initiating and experimenting with consensus building practices, and that took some time,” he said.
Marshall noted too that during his early years in the sector, the Forestry Department was made up of approximately ninety persons. “… there were no females among the technical staff,” he added while pointing out that today women play a significant role in the sector and the GFC engaged in broader forest management practices, with the emerging emphasis on the environment and social forestry.
“For example, when I joined there was nothing like Social Forestry. How do you manage stakeholders? There was nothing like that,” he said while noting that nowadays great emphasis is placed on communication and consultation with stakeholders within the sector at every level from loggers and chainsaw operators to international watchdogs like Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund.
He noted too that in 2009, the Local Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) became integral in the development of the sector.
Offering a word of advice, Marshall, said despite one’s qualification and experience, it is important to develop and maintain good human relations with peers and stakeholders. “At the end of the day to me, it doesn’t matter what sort of qualification you have, you have to learn to work with people, because that’s the key to collaboration with other agencies, you have to work with different people, and not only people who you like, and who support you, but everyone.”
He also underscored the importance of reading, and the acquisition of knowledge and experience through engagement in this ever-evolving world. “You have to read,” he emphasized.