Rodrigues unveils strategy for Amerindian betterment
Guyana Chronicle
April 9, 2002

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AMERINDIAN Affairs Minister Carolyn, Ms. Rodrigues has expressed optimism that a revised Amerindian Act can be taken to Parliament in the not too distant future.

Cabinet has decided the issue should be treated with urgency and a consultation process was developed, she told the National Assembly during the recent debate on the 2002 Budget.

Rodrigues said, too, that three major Amerindian organisations are in concurrence with the process and a technical committee is being finalised to conduct consultations while arrangements are being made for copies of the existing Act to be circulated to all Amerindian communities in Guyana.

With regard to land demarcation for the indigenous people, she said there are inaccuracies in the descriptive titles stated in the extant legislation and they can only be corrected after the surveying.

"Of course, we are aware that some communities are not even located within the boundaries as specified in the laws but, again, we can only confirm the extent of this when the lands are demarcated," Rodrigues reiterated.

She pointed out that, initially, the Government's policy required all 76 locations to be demarcated before extensions and new ones were considered.

However, recognising that it is not fair to those regions that have completed their demarcations to be waiting on those who have not yet made a decision, the Government has, just recently, decided to treat the matter in a regional way.

In other words, if a particular region is completed, the next stage will be entertained, Rodrigues announced.

She reported that demarcations in Regions Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands), Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Five (Mahaica/Berbice), Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and 10 (Upper Demerara/Berbice) have been completed and only one more is left to complete Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam).

The other regions are at different stages of completion, she said.

Rodrigues said there are seven more communities to be demarcated in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) and, once they are done, extensions and new areas would be addressed.

The minister expressed the hope that the Indigenous People's Commission will play an important role in moving the process forward.

She said, even though indigenous communities are located in the interior, occurrences on the coastland have some impact on them.

"I am saying this because I feel that unity at all levels is essential for any country improving its status (and) as part of the PPP/Civic Government, I know we are trying our best to move our country forward," Rodrigues asserted.

She added: "Let us be thankful for a country free of natural disasters and try to stay away from creating man-made ones. After all, it would only be us and those to come after us who would suffer the consequences."

According to her, over the last few years, food security in Amerindian communities "appeared to be compromised" because of intense Acoushi ants infestation and unpredictable weather conditions.

But, using the collaborative approach, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Rodrigues said her ministry was able, in December 2001, to commence a $10M programme for controlling the pests in Regions One (Barima/Waini), Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Nine.

She said another $7M project was started in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five and Six, in collaboration with SIMAP (Social Impact Amelioration Programme) and Ministry of Agriculture.

Rodrigues said this year's budget includes further resources to conclude the exercise countrywide.

She said the programme is overdue by almost 20 years and, in those areas where treatment is ongoing, the feedback is very positive.

Rodrigues said its importance cannot be underestimated because food security is of paramount import.

She said, with assistance from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a study will be carried out in regions that are most often affected to determine what can be done about negating the regular food scarcity.

Rodrigues said, in keeping with the mission statement of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, through which economic opportunities should be provided, every possible avenue would be explored to uplift the living standards of indigenous people.

Together with expertise from the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Ministry of Local Government, Go-Invest and a private investor, discussions were held on replanting manicole in Region One, where it grows, primarily in swampy areas and the heart is used as cabbage.

For the most part, it is exported to Europe and residents of Waini, Baramani, Aruka and Barima rivers rely heavily on the sale of that type of cabbage to a French-based company operating on Barima River.

Rodrigues said, because the crop was being harvested for more than eight years, reapers have gone further and further as the possibility exists of widespread depletion.

As a result, families are disrupted through the male absence for long periods and, in this light, a project was conceptualised for an experiment on the time of maturity and whether the plants can be grown on abandoned farms.

"This experiment was successful (and) I am happy to report that a proposal made received positive attention from United Nations Development Programme UNDP))," the minister said.

She said details are being finalised and, once the scheme gets off the ground, results can be seen in as early as three years.

People will no longer have to travel far distances and the market has already been secured.