An indigenous group based in the forests of Guyana, South America are hopeful that their land will be officially recognised by the government thanks to the support of the people of Wales.
The Wapichan people have been living in and using their forests sustainably for generations, yet the government only officially recognises the group’s legal rights to a small portion of their ancestral home. The community have called for fair and effective actions to title the full extent of their collective land since Guyana’s independence in 1966.
Their forest territory, made up of beautiful primary rainforest, is 1.4million hectares (3/4 the size of Wales at approx. 2 million hectares). Size of Wales, a unique Welsh climate change charity, has been supporting work to secure legal rights for this land. Once recognised the group wish to establish a large community owned Wapichan Conserved Forest to protect the precious eco-system.
Now the government may be listening. The President of Guyana has agreed to hold formal discussions with Wapichan representatives on the next steps to legally secure their territory. This action has been applauded and preliminary discussions with the government are expected to happen in the coming weeks.
Elizabeth Andre, an elder of Aishalton Village, said “Since I was a little girl I used to hear my daddy talking about the land… (and) the need to have our land rights respected. I never believed that after all this time, which is nearly 60 years now, that nothing would have been done to properly protect our territory.”
“My mother is very elderly. I want her to see our territory legally recognized so she may die peacefully, knowing that our people and our future generations are secure on our collective land. We look to our new government to take action now. We have waited long enough.” she continued.
Welsh support through Size of Wales has been vital for this project. Since 2011 it has helped the community map their traditional lands, develop plans for a large community conserved forest, and create sustainable management plans. New technology is supporting this endeavour; the group recently built a drone to monitor threats of illegal logging and mining within their lands, and are currently developing a community managed website.
International pressure has helped push for a change of stance from the Guyanese government. Nicholas and Faye Fredericks from the community recently raised awareness for their plight by attending the UN’s climate conference COP21 in Paris last December.
Whilst there the group were awarded the UN’s Equator Prize which recognises outstanding local community initiatives and solutions to climate change. Size of Wales also attended the COP21 conference to raise awareness for tropical forests and highlight Wales’ positive impact on climate change.
Tropical forests are crucial in the fight against the changing climate – they absorb nearly a fifth of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions every year. Size of Wales helps protect these precious environments by supporting an area of tropical forest the size of Wales as part of a national response to climate change.
Size of Wales supports the work of Forest Peoples Programme and South Central Peoples Development Association. You can support this project by visiting sizeofwales.org.uk. Any donations made will be doubled by Size of Wales’ generous match fund.