President David Granger: Honourable Vice President Sydney Allicock, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs; Honourable Noel Holder, Minister of Agriculture; Honourable Dawn Hastings, Minister within the Ministry of Communities; Mr. Martin Carter, Deputy Toshao, thank you for permission… thank you for your permission to enter into your community – Fairview.
Mr. Reuben Robertson of the Food and Agricultural Organisation, Mr. Arnold De Mendonca of IICA; Mr. George Jervis, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture; Mr. Emile McGarrell, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities; Ms. Ndibi Schwiers, Department of Environment; His Worship Mr. Carwyn Holland who has come into Region Eight to see how it’s done; Mr. Dane Gobin, Chief Executive Officer of Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development; other officials; regional officials; staff of Iwokrama; residents; ladies and gentlemen:
Today is a happy day for me to be back on the banks of the mighty Essequibo. As the Vice President said many of you would not have seen the Essequibo like this you might have seen the Essequibo at Parika, but this is a far way from Parika.
Let me wish you a happy National Tree Day. As the Minister of Agriculture has said this is our second, and we plan to have about a hundred. Next year, I look forward to being with you at Hosororo in the Barima-Waini Region where we celebrate on the 1st Saturday of October; we will be at Hosororo in 2017. So I have declared the 1st Saturday of October – Agriculture Month – to be National Tree Day.
It’s not going to be a holiday but it’s going to be observed every year as National Tree Day. Not tree planting day, but National Tree Day. And let me greet all of you, this is the first day of Agriculture Month; it’s also the day when we launch the Department of Environment.
Today the 1st of October, the Department of Environment will be established within the Ministry of the Presidency. Today is the day also I am launching these exercise books for the children. When they sang there I recall how I used to sound 60 years ago when I was in the Christ Church Choir, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge now.
But this is an important step to show our children these 20 giants; many of them are present here in Region Eight and next door in Region Nine. Not so many in Region Ten, but Region Ten is important because you can’t get to Region Eight and Nine without passing through Region Ten. But, this is our story. This is a picture of Guyana, this is not Anguilla, I hope we don’t have any Anguillans present. This is Guyana; all of these animals you see here are present in the hinterland of Guyana. The largest anaconda in the world, the largest otter in the world, the largest anteater in the world, the largest freshwater fish in the world, the largest armadillo, the largest poisonous snake, the largest caiman.
On an early morning you can see a caiman coming out there if you are here tomorrow morning; but don’t swim though, you might lose some body parts because the caiman is not discriminating. The largest watrush in the world, the largest eagle in the world, the largest predator on the continent of South America, the jaguar; the largest manatee, the largest monkey, the largest river otter in the world, the largest sea turtle in the world, the goliath bird eating spider, the largest stork in the world, the Jabiru stork; the tapir, the largest toad in the world, the false vampire bat, the largest vulture, all these are Guyanese and that’s why we’re celebrating our biodiversity.
That’s why we’re here today, that’s why we’re planting trees because if you cut down the trees, as the Amerindians say, if you cut down the trees the sky will fall. The trees hold up the sky but the trees provide cover for these animals, for our beautiful flora and fauna. If you cut down the trees then the animals would be left in the desert and they will die, they will perish and we’ll lose that vital cycle of biodiversity.
So today is very, very important for me, far beyond the importance of planting a tree; it is telling us why we should plant trees and while you’re here, let me help Dane with his cash flow, he has a cash flow problem. So you’ll see some figurines. These things are cheap. They only cost about $1,000, but if you speak to him he can break it down to $750.00 and if you speak to me I will break him down to $600.00. So before you leave, when your children say where you been whole night? Tell them, you’ve been to Iwokrama and you buy a balata figurine.
Balata used to be very popular a hundred years ago when people thought it would replace rubber. Balata came from the Rupununi; in fact Annai was one of the main stations for collecting balata, but now they make beautiful objects and I’m sure every member of the Ministry of Agriculture is going to take two or three of them.
So we are here today not only to sell balata figurines but we are here today to celebrate this centre, Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development. We’re here because Iwokrama is in the centre of Guyana and Guyana is in the centre of the Guiana Shield and the Guiana Shield is bigger than Greenland. The Guiana Shield is perhaps the single largest area of unspoilt biodiversity on planet earth. I call it the second Garden of Eden. Every night you look at BBC, you see what is happening to the first Garden of Eden? Being pounded by airstrikes, by people who are destroying the city to save the city but this is the second Garden of Eden and these are the animals that Noah missed. I don’t know how you could put a bird eating spider alongside these birds but that was Noah. I mean if a spider could have eaten the jabiru stork and harpy eagle we wouldn’t have had them here today, but Guyana is at the centre of my world.
I don’t want to live anywhere else. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to live anywhere else. I want them to live right here in this land of giants. And since 1989 before the Rio Conference, three years before Rio, our President Desmond Hoyte committed 371,000 hectares – an area that is bigger than Malta, this is where you are, bigger than Malta – Iwokrama was committed to be used as a model for conservation and sustainable development, that’s why you’re here today. Don’t think you can drink it, but it’s bigger than Malta, giant sized Malta.
Iwokrama represents the essential environmental services which trees provide and we provide these services to the entire earth, not just to Region Eight or Region Nine, or Region Ten, but an entire earth because we are part of the lungs of the earth, we help the earth to breathe.
Guyana is what you call a net carbon sink… we absorb more carbon than we generate that is why seven years ago the Minister of Environment of Norway came right here, on the banks of the Essequibo [River], to sign an agreement because many of the industrialised countries generate carbon, which contributes to global warming, and we absorb that carbon. How do we absorb that carbon? With trees; that’s why we need trees. The trees absorb the carbon dioxide that is what you call the greenhouse effect.
If people continue cutting down trees and generating toxic gases into the atmosphere the world would become warmer, the ice caps would melt, our sea defences would be threatened and our animals would die. When I come before the children of Iwokrama I’d have to bring a plain exercise book like the back here [gestures to the cover of a book], because the animals ‘dead out’.
So, ladies and gentlemen, the trees are why we’re here, why we’re celebrating National Tree Day. They contribute to water control and water control is important; the cleanliness of water. Water as I was once told, is liquid silver, you cannot live without water and if you go in some Indigenous communities you will see how important water is. In the afternoon people bathing, swimming, washing, drinking, so when miners pollute the water, or when loggers cut down too much, or when toxic substances go into the rivers, mothers get ill and can’t get babies, children get sick.
So water control is also very important because these trees help us to produce pure water too. So we are a net carbon sink and our forest still envelops about 85% of our landmass – the second highest per cent forest cover in the world. The second highest percentage forest cover of any country in the world! So our forests are important to us because we provide those environmental services to mother earth by storing carbon and restoring the balance between oxygen and humidity on earth. So Iwokrama is important to us and that is why you are here, because our forests are sustainable livelihood to the Indigenous people that you’ve met when you came here and these people live within the general area of Iwokrama’s boundaries like Fairview village; but our forest also provides food, they provide shelter, they provide medicine, they provide forest products, which support the wellbeing of residents of these communities, and these communities are not just Fairview; some have come from Annai; some have come from Surama, which some people call ‘Alicockville’. [Laughter.]
Some have come from Kwatamang, some have come from Fairview, some have come from Woweta, but many of these communities, some Patamona, some Macushi, depend on the forest for their livelihood. So once we destroy the trees and the forests we also destroy their livelihood; erode the livelihood of the Indigenous people who depend on them and the animals, of course, who survive because of the high endemic biodiversity.
When we destroy the forest we risk making some of these animals extinct and extinction is forever. You don’t get it back; you don’t press the recall button. Once something is extinct it’s extinct forever and that is why I’m so careful and you must listen to me later on, because you will hear me one this again. I’m so careful about people who like wild meat because I’ve said over and over again, the animals are more valuable to us alive than dead and some people know they can’t serve me any sort of manatee pepperpot and manatee souse because very soon you won’t be able to kill them without going to jail.
Our biodiversity must be protected. Too many people are smuggling our wildlife and we are creating a corps of wardens so smugglers of our wildlife will face the harsh and long arm of the law very soon. So I urge you, start eating sardines. [Laughter.]
So here at Iwokrama, we have created a laboratory of biodiversity and it is my mission, I’m not a dreamer, I’m a planner. Right here we’ll have an institute – an international institute for biodiversity, a laboratory so that we can fulfil Iwokrama’s mission, which is “to develop them and to make available to Guyana the international community systems, methods and techniques for the sustainable management and utilisation of the multiple resources of the tropical forest and the conservation of biological biodiversity”.
So Iwokrama is important to me because it’s at the heart of everything that I’ve been saying and doing over the last 16 months and it must remain a centre for research and sustainable development practices. I want to see people coming from all around the world; from dry countries, from desert countries to come, from the tundra, to see how we preserve our biodiversity. International students, you might notice the airstrip is being lengthened; it’s being lengthened because we want to bring in bigger aircraft, more students to come and study in this pleasant campus, study our flora and fauna. So we want to ensure that Iwokrama takes the lead in this green revolution. We want to ensure that Iwokrama’s forest continue to make a contribution to mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.
We want to make sure that Iwokrama, at the same time, could help to promote the livelihood of communities which I mentioned just now, like Aranaputa, Annai, Kwatamang and other neighbourhood communities. We want to protect the livelihoods of the Indigenous people as well. So you will see a better bridge, you will see a better highway and you will see a better aerodrome – that is my plan, not my dream. [Applause.]
As I said before, trees hold up the sky and if you cut down the trees, the sky will fall. So today Guyana is happy and we were happy and let me give credit where credit is due; we were happy seven years ago, in November 2009, when the Minister of Environment of the Kingdom of Norway Eric Solheim and President Bharrat Jagdeo came right here in Fairview, I think, on the bank of the Essequibo, to sign that agreement to preserve our rainforest and I want to thank the Kingdom of Norway for that initiative.
Although it is concerned with Low Carbon Development Strategy, it is a part of the bigger biodiversity picture which we are painting here, and I want people to understand why it is so important. The following year the Prime Minister of Norway, Mr. [Jens] Stoltenberg, announced the establishment of the Guyana Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) plus Investment Fund (GRIF). Many people in Guyana just hear about LCDS and GRIF and REDD. They don’t know what these things mean but they are all part of our environmental development plan.
So I’m not a tightrope walker. Sometimes I say and do things and people criticise me, well in politics you have to have a skin thicker than the tapir to deal with these criticisms. But early this year I pledged that an additional two million hectares of land and waterways will be set aside for land and conservation – two million, I’m serious about that.
I don’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hares. I know the value of our forest, of our trees and I have made that commitment; I’ve signed on the dotted line and you gave me the authority to do so. So when you see the tightrope walkers want to cut down this and dig up that tell them I already signed, it’s going to be preserved so my grandchildren are going to see it. They’re not going to come and see these potholes and abscesses.
Sometimes I fly over some areas (I’m not looking at you Carwyn, I have not come to Region Ten yet) but other mining areas, other areas where the trees have been cut down and holes have been dug, breeding mosquitoes, mining and forestry must be done in a sustainable manner and I have signed committing more acreage, more hectares for conservation.
I’m serious about establishing a protected area in every single zone, every single region of this country; not one, one. Every region must have a protected area, not just Shell Beach here and Kanuku there and Kaieteur. Every region must understand this message about biodiversity; about preserving, conserving and ensuring that their children could inherit this beautiful Garden of Eden that God has given us. And I’m serious about that; I’m serious about the wetland.
Some people don’t speak about the wetlands but when you go into the wetlands for the first time you would see a live Canje pheasant. Canje pheasant not here in the savannahs, you find stork, you find anteater, you have to go to the wetlands and you see different animals. I am planning to send Christmas cards to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago [featuring] a flock of scarlet ibises. I think he’s going to get myocardial infarction because he’s going think it’s a Trinidadian Christmas card but its Guyanese – scarlet ibises… [Laugther.]
I am serious about National Tree Day because I want each one of you to take away the message that emphasises Guyana’s beauty or economic and biological diversity, the value of our trees. This is what National Tree Day means to me and to us all.
So today I want to reiterate my commitments which I signed for in April this year at the United Nations – a special session that we had to endorse the Paris Agreement and those of you who read the papers would have noticed that the President of the Cooperative Republic was the first person to be congratulated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. You think it’s a stroke of luck? It’s a recognition of what Guyana has started to do. It’s a recognition of Guyana’s place in the international community as a ‘green’ State. That is what we have become, a ‘green’ State.
So, I have undertaken on your behalf to improve the monitoring of your forests, to reduce illegal deforestation. I have undertaken to increase value-added activities in our forest sector so as to augment carbon storage in the long use wood products like these. You can bleed balata over and over again and the balata tree will still be there. You don’t have to cut it down. In fact, the balata tree is of more value to the Indigenous people standing than cut down.
I have undertaken to ensure that there is mineral mapping in order to better identify exploitable deposits and to reduce deforestation because sometimes miners clear lands hoping they get lucky and then they discover that the land does not yield any minerals – by that time they [already] done the damage. So we will improve our mineral mapping so that people can go only to the places which yield the minerals they’re looking for rather than this type of ‘slash and burn’ type of practices which had destroyed so much of our hinterland.
So ladies and gentlemen, it’s getting warm and closer to lunch which is always dangerous on both sides especially on Saturday afternoon. Some people looked across there, they see a hammock and they wonder how long this will go on but as President I have the authority to go on… But I was saying that our ‘green’ agenda, our ‘green’ State is committed to protecting our biodiversity and our wildlife. It is committed to the provision of education and environmental services and ecotourism.
People are going to come across the ocean to see these birds. I was at Dadanawa the year before the last when I was campaigning and there is a particular bird called the red siskin and you only find the red siskin in southern Guyana and east Venezuela, nowhere else. People come from Ireland to Dadanawa to see the red siskin and we are committed to that form of sustainable ecotourism. We are committed to generating sustainable energy and although you hear a humming in the background, next year when you come you wouldn’t hear that humming anymore because light will be generated at night by solar power. We’re committed to the mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change and that is why we must keep our forests, as far as possible, intact.
We’re committed to the management of our coastal zone, where, as the Minister within the Ministry of Communities pointed out, three quarters of our people live and because of the danger of rising sea levels our sea defences will be under attack and our coastal communities will be in jeopardy. We’re committed to the management of our wetlands – don’t believe that swamps are always areas to be filled in, they’re just a nuisance. Swamps have a unique biodiversity and that biodiversity also has to be preserved and now we’re coming closer to the coast, we’re committed to the prudent management of waste. Solid waste management is a problem that is why we have to do away with plastic bottles of water.
So these are some of the goals of this ‘green’ State, but to achieve these objectives we have brought together, not in a single unit, but under the purview of the Department of Environment which will be launched today the 1st of October, 2016 – the Guyana Forestry Commission, which will remain part of the Ministry of Natural Resources; the Guyana Energy Authority, which will remain part of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure; the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, which is already part of the Ministry of the Presidency; but we will also include the Environmental Protection Agency; we will also include the Project Management Office which of course is involved in managing the GRIF fund; we will also include the Protected Areas Commission, the Wildlife Management Authority and of course, give assistance to the Iwokrama Centre, which from time to time does require assistance which in international relations is called cooperation.
These agencies and authorities being brought under the Department of Environment will help to better plan our route, this green pathway that we have chosen, the creation of this ‘green’ State. So as of today, the department of the Environment is a reality and it will be located in the Ministry of the Presidency and I’d like to congratulate Mrs. Ndibi Schwiers, who is the first Head of that Department. Could you stand please? Not a short person.
Ladies and gentlemen, as the Bible says, “the earth is the lord’s”, we are only the trustees some people feel they can abuse the earth because they believe the earth belongs to them; they have freehold or they’re leasing, but we inherited the earth from our ancestors and we have to pass it on to our children and grandchildren. No matter how rich you are, you have to leave it behind and the best we could do is leave it in as close a condition to the way in which you inherited from your parents as you would like to bequeath it to your children.
We must therefore, see our trees not as objects to be felled for their economic worth, but more important, as objects to be propagated and that’s why we’re planting today- as objects to be preserved and if you have trees in your yard, try to trim them and preserve them and make sure they are watered and protect them so that in years to come, we will demonstrate to our children that they’re more precious to us living and growing than being cut down and converted into sawdust.
So today is a very happy day for me for all of these reasons. I’d like to thank you for coming out here. The only regret I have is that you can’t spend longer to go up to Turtle Mountain, to go up these rivers and see the beauty of this second Garden of Eden.
May God bless you all!
I thank you.

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