The process of negotiating a timber-trade deal with the EU has improved forest governance in Guyana, and more gains are expected as implementation gets underway.
“There is now a greater awareness of forests and greater appreciation for them,” says James Singh, Head of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). “People have realised forests are not only a source of timber, but that they also provide environmental services, are a source of non-timber forest products, have a cultural and spiritual relevance, and are home to biodiversity. The VPA has been crucial in improving public perceptions.”
Source: Javier Bernal Revert, EU FLEGT Facility
The VPA to which Singh refers is the Guyana-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement, a deal negotiated between 2012 and 2018 to promote legal timber trade and sustainable forest management. Even before Guyana begins to implement the VPA, it is clear that the process has brought benefits.
It has led to important legal reforms and has improved governance in other ways, by fostering consultation in decision-making processes and strengthening coordination among government agencies.
“Until recently, we met with communities to talk about issues affecting communities, and we met with traders and producers to talk about issues affecting trade and production,” says Jacy Archibald, the GFC’s Corporate Secretary. “Under the VPA, we met with all stakeholders simultaneously to talk about all issues collectively.”
In December 2015, the GFC published a communication and consultation strategy to guide Guyana’s efforts to negotiate and implement the VPA.
“The communication strategy really gave us a chance to look at all stakeholders holistically,” says Kenny David, head of the FLEGT Secretariat, which coordinates VPA activities. “We realised they all needed to be part of the discussion.”
“The strategy also helped us learn about how to give feedback, use the right language, use information,” says David. “It helped us ask questions that needed asking and answering. In bringing people together, we’ve also allowed greater transparency. People know they are being kept informed, and that is crucial. There was initial resistance to this, but it now works really well.”
“The VPA has really brought us together as a sector,” says Laura Singh, who works at the Guyana’s Forest Product Development and Marketing Council Inc., and is a member of the National Technical Working Group that led the VPA negotiations with the EU. “It has brought conversation and understanding to the table. Without this process we’d be disconnected as a sector.”
“The process has identified gaps to fill and issues to address, enabling us to strengthen our systems,” says Singh. “It has been beneficial for the industry, but also for indigenous communities and small producers.”
The VPA process has also fundamentally changed the way people work. “The VPA has brought together all relevant government agencies with a stake in the forestry sector,” says Jacy Archibald. “It has clarified our respective mandates, fostered collaboration and ensured coordination. What the VPA is doing is connecting all the agencies involved to create a very dynamic system of holistic governance.”
“This is an impact that can’t be shouted about enough,” says Kenny David of the FLEGT Secretariat. “Many of our agencies did a lot of good work, but they did it in a fragmented way and there has been a lot of overlap. Through the VPA, we’re bringing the various contributions together. It wasn’t easy to do, but it’s proven really effective as a mechanism that brings agencies together. The VPA has helped us to clarify roles and responsibilities. When you are in Guyana you really see this.”
David and the other Guyanese stakeholders quoted here have high hopes for what the VPA can deliver once implementation gets underway. Meanwhile, the model of consultation championed in pursuit of the VPA has attracted the attention of government ministries beyond the forest sector.
“Guyana is a place with very low experience in genuinely broad-based negotiations,” says Jocelyn Dow, Chair of the Board of the GFC. “Our political culture is not a consultative one. In that sense, the VPA process has been as important as the outcome — even more, I’d say.”
“The VPA process could now be a reference for other issues we have to deal with – other sectors can use our experience,” says Dow. “We’re sending a signal that consultation has to happen, and we’re learning and teaching how it needs to happen.”
“Over the past five years, we have seen normally contentious issues dealt with, and we have been able to reach consensus,” she says. “This has helped us develop our capacity to respect other people’s views even if we disagree with them. Everyone has to take a little and give a little. This is what the VPA has achieved.”