Sustainable agro-forestry systems to empower Indigenous and Maroon communities in Guyana Shield. Over the past century Indigenous and Maroon communities in the rainforests of Surinam, Brazil and Venezuela (population almost 25 million in total) have faced increased pressures on their community lands from expanding economic activities: land settlement schemes, large dams, road building, mining (bauxite, gold), logging, bioprospecting, industrial fishing and farming, ecotourism and conservation projects imposed from above.
Fighting against further marginalisation and faced with imminent threats from environmental destruction, contamination, poverty and cultural demise, these tribal communities are seeking stronger legal guarantees for the protection of their ancestral lands, their culture and way of life.
Indigenous people and Maroons
One important asset of Indigenous peoples and Maroons is their experience and knowledge of the tropical rainforest ecosystem and its rich flora and fauna. Unfortunately, the capabilities of Indigenous and Maroon peoples to manage the forest resource base have so far been insufficiently exploited. Exploitation of the forest resource base while ensuring its continuity has been an integral part of their livelihood strategies for long-term survival.
Since the challenge facing the national governments is to exploit the potentially rich but delicate resources of their countries in a way that benefits all their citizens, Indigenous and Maroon communities may have a crucial role to play in the process of preserving the delicate natural environment. The problems described above can be tackled by developing new strategies for the sustainable development of agroforestry systems that support the socioeconomic and organisational empowerment of Indigenous and Maroon communities, while contributing to the national economy. A three-pronged approach will be pursued to enhance the sustainability of the agroforestry systems: environmental sustainability, economical sustainability and organisational sustainability.
The project approach
Three subprojects have been defined with the following specific objectives:
Biophysical integration and innovationThis subproject aims to integrate Indigenous and Maroon knowledge on environmental management with current formal agricultural and forestry practices. It will develop sustainable agroforestry systems for cash crops, timber and non-timber forest products.
Market chain exploration
This subproject will conduct product chain analyses on constraints and opportunities for the production of economically viable cash crops, timber and non-timber forest products under environmentally safe conditions, based on Indigenous and Maroon uses.
Institutional/organisational support and knowledge exchangeThis subproject aims to exchange knowledge with all the stakeholders involved, and empower them where needed, to increase the welfare of Indigenous and Maroon communities through the commercialisation of cash crops, timber and non-timber forest products using sustainable approaches. The project takes a strong participatory approach. The challenge today is to let farmers take the lead in community research and development. The intensive participatory approach taken in this project is expected to constitute a basis for independent farmer experimentation and innovation. It will promote good policymaking for the sustainable development of traditional agroforestry systems. During the course of the project, meetings will be held for the exchange of information, technology and training to meet the needs expressed by the Indigenous and Maroon actors.
The project plan identifies a number of specific final project deliverables. Some of the most important are:
- a selection of the most promising strategies and identification of scenarios that are environmentally, economically and socially applicable to each type of exploitation/enterprise
- tailor-made guidelines for sustainable production and commercialisation of cash crops, timber and non-timber forest products, including capacity building
- brochures / leaflets on environmental management strategies, product chain improvement strategies and strategies for developing more robust Indigenous and Maroon agroforestry systems
- conclusive participatory training/exchange sessions.