President David Granger: Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Honourable Sydney Allicock; Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder; Honourable Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan; Regional Chairman, Mr. Brentnol Ashley; Mayor of Mabaruma, Mr. Henry Smith; Councillors of the RDC; officials; residents; members of the media; boys and girls.
Thank you once again for this warm welcome and the longer we wait here I think the warmer it will become. Ladies and gentlemen, three years ago I instituted officially, a national celebration called National Tree Day and as the Minister of Agriculture said, this is our third celebration 2015, 2016, 2017.
We started at Bartica in Region Seven, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. We went to Iwokrama in the Potaro-Siparuni Region and now we are here at Hosororo-Wanaina, in the Barima-Waini Region, and every year we will move from region to region taking the message of the importance of trees to our country; to all communities; to all regions and to all citizens.
The Minister of Communities has explained the danger we face because of climate change. As I told the United Nations, as I told the Inter-American Defense Board, as I told the National Defence University a couple of weeks ago, the devastation that Harvey and his family caused: Irma, Jose, Katia, I don’t know all the names of the family, but when he came be brought all of his ‘children’ with him and the devastation he caused was worse than warfare. No war, no invasion could have done to Barbuda and Dominica what the hurricanes have done.
So we are speaking about powers when we speak about global warming. This is not a slogan and for this reason last year, 1st October, I established what is called the Department of the Environment, combining the Guyana Energy Agency, Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, Protected Areas Commission, the Wildlife Management Authority and the Office of Climate Change, bringing together their efforts to ensure that Guyana has a holistic plan to deal with the environment.
I also said that Guyana has become a ‘green state’ and that is why I am wearing a green shirt and the ministers are wearing green shirts because we have to think ‘green’ if we are to move forward in this country. And a ‘green state’ is one that protects its biodiversity, protects its wild life, one that provides eco-educational services for children in schools and to the population at large; one that provides eco-tourism services so that people will come to these regions to see your beautiful flora and fauna, one that generates energy from sustainable sources.
So if we came here next year October we wouldn’t see the generator in the background, instead we will be seeing solar panels on our buildings; thank you Mr. Ashley. A ‘green state’ is one that mitigates the impact of climate change and one that manages waste and that is why, Mr. Mayor, as I came along I started to count the amount of plastic bottles by the wayside, Styrofoam boxes and waste because one of the principles of our ‘green state’ is the management of solid waste and I don’t think that everything I saw from the airstrip to Hosororo Hill signifies that enough effort is being made to control solid waste but I will come again next year, so you will get another school report.
Ladies and gentlemen, Regional Chairman, it is a good thing to be in charge of this great region, to be the chairman, to be a councillor, to be the mayor of this town. The Barima-Waini Region is over twenty thousand square kilometres, nearly four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. You call yourselves Region One and I want to make you Region One in terms of agricultural production. The first region, the number one region, that is what region one means to me; you must be the number one region in terms of agriculture production.
I know your population is small but today we speak of trees, we speak of the economic and the aesthetic values of trees. What I mean is that trees actually earn you money and in our country trees are more valuable standing than being cut down. You heard before from the other ministers; trees give you fruit, food, berries, nuts and I hope you all give me some avocado pears to carry back to places that don’t grow avocado pears. Wherever I go I sell Guyana and I tell people that the best avocado pears in the western hemisphere come from the Barima-Waini Region so give me something to advertise.
You have heard also that trees absorb more carbon dioxide and for this reason we have an agreement with the Kingdom of Norway to keep our trees standing so that when other countries generate greenhouse gases, our trees can serve as the ‘lungs of the earth’ and absorb those toxic gasses. You have heard from Minister Bulkan that the roots of the trees would help to prevent or inhibit erosion, especially in a hilly region like this. If you cut down the trees you find that when there is heavy rainfall it would wash all the soil down into the valley; the trees, the roots of the trees would help to prevent erosion.
Erosion sometimes pollutes the rivers so it will not only keep the soil together but it will stop the rivers being fouled; and particularly Mr. Solomon, thank you. But some trees would help to cool down this park, so I hope that as part of your plan with the region and the municipality we have a cool park where children could come and have excursions from their churches or have holidays or have picnics with their families under the trees. They provide shade; they provide beauty. I’m glad to know that this will become a park but the park must also have trees, have shade because there are some crops, some commercial crops like cocoa which require trees and the cocoa plants, the cocoa trees could grow under the shade. So if it is your intention in this region to produce more cocoa, I know that cocoa comes from this region already, coffee comes from this region.
You could also use trees to generate more planting of cocoa trees and for this region and other regions you know very well that without trees the birds will have nowhere to rest; without trees there will be no animals. There is an Indigenous saying that trees hold up the sky so if the trees are cut down the sky will fall and we have to combat the desertification that is taking place. In some places, in another region where I worked during my youth, I could play and swim and drink the water but now that is not possible. Sometimes you look at the landscape; it looks like a sore, like an abscess. You know we have a beautiful landscape and it pains me when that landscape has to be damaged. Of course, I speak to the miners, I speak to the geologists; they say if you want omelette, you have to break the egg shell. Well I like small omelette, so just break a little piece of egg shell, but there is no other place in the Caribbean like Guyana, the most beautiful, the most bountiful, the most blissful country in the Caribbean.
We have wetlands as you can see in Moruka, the other sub-region, and of course the Canje wetlands are the habitat of our national bird, the Canje Pheasant. We have extensive grasslands in the Berbice Intermediate Savannahs and the Rupununi Savannahs. We have highlands, when you look at them they seem to be covered by clouds in the Pakaraimas; in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. We have islands in the estuary of the Essequibo River; three of those islands alone, Wakenaam, Supenaam and Hogg Island, are the size of the British Virgin Islands and much safer too; but three of those islands are the size of the BVI.
All that is part of Guyana’s landscape; we have rainforests; we have coastal beaches like Shell Beach, over 1,600 square kilometres. We have lakes, beautiful lakes in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region – real lakes, not pools or puddles, lakes where you can go on holiday, hot and cold lakes. We have some of the most magnificent waterfalls in the world. We have rivers – beautiful rivers. Some like the Waini; you can go along for a long time without seeing human habitation. So my brothers and sisters, we are blessed to be given a land like this and when we speak of National Tree Day, when we speak of the environment; we speak of protecting this gift that God has given us.
We belong to what is called the Guiana Shield, a huge area that is bigger than Greenland, running from Columbia in the west to French Guiana in the east, bigger than Greenland; and right in the middle of the Guiana Shield is the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, reinforcing our claim to be part of the ‘lungs of the earth’. The Guiana Shield alone, not Africa, not Asia, not Europe, the Guiana Shield provides 15% of the world’s freshwater. The Guiana Shield is the single largest remaining tract of pristine rainforest and your own country, Guyana, is still covered in excess of eighty percent with rainforest.
So ladies and gentlemen, we now come to the question of what we do with this precious gift. Vice President Allicock has already pointed out that when in another location in the Demerara-Mahaica Region, Region Four, I asked the village of Pakuri to adopt what I call the VIP- the Village Improvement Plan and here I’d asked that the mayor adopt a TIP- a Town Improvement Plan to work hand in hand with the region and with the central government to improve that horrible road that brought us here, but also to improve solid waste management.
We know you have infrastructural problems but you cannot solve those problems by fighting mattie; you cannot solve those problems by fighting one another. The municipality has to work with the region and the region has to work with central government. We all want a better Guyana and we all have to work together. So I want to leave with you another plan, and that is a Tree Action Plan. That Tree Action Plan has only two elements; one, don’t just forget trees after today but embark on this plan in your municipality, in the region, a plan that first of all will deal with the natural regeneration of plants.
So it is not about only planting new plants but regenerating plants, protecting the old plants to prevent them from being killed off and if you see anybody painting a tree, stop them. If God wanted trees to be white he would have made them white. Don’t paint trees, God looks after his own; paint the paling, don’t paint trees anymore. But under this part of the plan for natural regeneration let us see not only this part that Mr. Solomon is sponsoring but all communities should have small community parks where people can go for their Sunday school picnics where they can relax with their families, where schools can go, where churches can go during the holidays.
So let us have more municipal parks and let us focus on propagating Indigenous trees. Sometimes people bring trees from different places and they cause problems because they bring a lot of parasites with them and sometimes when the parasites come to areas where there are no predators, the parasites just take control. So you can’t move trees from place to place; so use this opportunity to regenerate naturally plants which are Indigenous to the Barima-Waini Region. You know there’s a place in Georgetown which they call the Botanical Gardens?
Well I thought was Botanical Gardens myself and it should be a botanical garden and I would like to see a botanical garden in every region where real botanists select the trees and the plants which are endemic to those regions. So that taken as a whole, all ten regions would be able to put together a collection of the Indigenous plants of their respective regions. So let that be the first part of your Tree Action Plan and the second part would be replanting, particularly of native plants, so that botanists will come to see your plants. And why is that necessary? It is necessary because plants sustain life, plants provide medicine.
So today’s exercise has a clear objective; it’s not just an excursion, it’s not a picnic. Tree Planting Day provides us with an opportunity to inform and inspire all Guyanese to care for trees wherever they are, inspire all Guyanese to care for trees. As I said, Barima-Waini has always been the number one region in terms of certain fruit and vegetables. So this is an opportunity to maximize the use of trees in the Barima-Waini Region.
The second part of that objective is that we have an obligation to provide for future generations. When daddy plants a tree, he knows he cannot live to pick the fruit from it. He plants the tree for his sons and daughters so if daddy doesn’t plant anything his children and grandchildren will have nothing to inherit. So it is an obligation that we owe to future generations. So let us use National Tree Day as an opportunity to let the future generations know we care for them and there will be a cumulative effect that every year more and more trees will be planted so that Guyana remains ‘green’ and finally, one of the objectives of National Tree Day (NTD) is to develop an omnibus approach.
This is not an exercise for the Ministry of Agriculture or for the region or for the municipality or for Mr. Solomon. This is an opportunity for us to involve the whole community as you have here and I don’t know what the plan is but starting from six o’clock tomorrow morning I expect that you start to regenerate plants, to set seeds and saplings so that when we come to the next National Tree Day the first Saturday of October 2018, there will be enough plants so everybody will have something to take away. No Coca-Cola, no Busta, but only fruit juices squeezed from plants grown in the Barima-Waini Region. How about that?
So by developing this omnibus approach you can save your children getting bad teeth, from sugar water which people send us in little plastic bottles from overseas. The children in the schools could drink nutritious fruit juice from the fruit grown in the Barima-Waini Region. So let us start at the individual level; in your shops at Kumaka, start to sell juices; soursop drink good to men who have men problems. Mauby, sorrel, other juices and drinks made from Indigenous fruit.
At the level of the homes, encourage housewives to produce foods and beverages from the trees that grow in this region. Your churches, when they have these huge rallies, could be using these products of the Barima-Waini Region. Your municipalities, when they have these long meetings, the RDC, bringing people from the different sub-regions – all of them could be drinking beverages made from fruits of the Barima-Waini Region. If any of them bring any Busta let me know.
Ladies and gentlemen, residents of this great region, I started by saying that you are blessed to have a region that is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. I am convinced that now that you have problems next door on the western side you can produce commodities which people want to pay good money for. Don’t take the Bolivars, right? Good money in neighbouring countries – Trinidad and Tobago. When I was in the Pomeroon I drank some of the best coconut water I ever drank in my life, coming from the Pomeroon, bottled in the Pomeroon and sent to Trinidad and Tobago.
So you can do it, Barima-Waini, and I urge you to make National Tree Day 2017 as the day for rededication and for seizing the opportunity to make the Barima-Waini number one in terms of tree coverage and the production of food; and may God bless you all.
I thank you.