The Guyana Forestry Commission, 1979-2004: 25 years of service to the national economy (Part 1) By Tota C. Mangar
Stabroek News
January 29, 2004

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The Guyana Forest Department, a body in existence since 1925 and under various Ministries, was transformed into the Guyana Forestry Commission under the Forestry Act No. 2 of 1979. From then on the Guyana Forestry Commission, a Public Sector Organisation, became the sole entity charged with the responsibility of administering and managing state-owned forests in Guyana.

At its inaugural meeting on 7 November 1979, chairman of the Guyana Forestry Commission, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Mr. Hubert Jack, justified the change from department to commission by saying:

Since the Forestry Department had to be funded from the central government's general revenue most of the anticipated programmes so necessary for the development of forestry had to be curtailed. The fact was that the whole organisational structure was geared to a traditional method which prevented greater emphasis on the industrial and technical aspects. Making the Forest Department a commission would certainly be an incentive for development and increased production. As a commission it would be funded from all the revenues derived from the forests....

At that inaugural meeting a mission statement identified the overall policy of the Guyana Forestry Commission as follows:

1. To encourage investment both by the Public and Private sectors in forestry development.

2. To strive to maintain a harmonious relationship with all agencies involved in exploitation/production/exportation and consumption of forest products in order to maximise benefits.

3. To assist and encourage entrepreneurs in establishing further manufacturing procedures using wood as the basic raw material and to recommend

(a) duty concessions on imported raw materials and

(b) tax holidays as appropriate.

4. To develop the forest of the country as part of an integrated land use policy for the conservation and development of all natural resources.

5. To manage the forest on the basis of sustained yield.

6. To increase production from the forests subject to (5) above with a view to:-

(a) Fulfilling the country's requirements of domestic forest products.

(b) Developing secondary processing industries.

(c) Exporting a maximum of forest products of acceptable quality.

7. To ensure a reasonable return to the community on the exploitation of forest resources.

8. To develop markets for species now considered unmerchantable.

9. To participate actively and directly in the exploitation of forest resources.

10. To participate actively and directly in the exploitation of forest resources.

With its formal establishment the Guyana Forestry Commission assumed a more autonomous and commercialised role. The Commissioner of Forests as the Chief Executive Officer reports directly to the members of the commission instead of a subject minister. From its inception the organisation began to derive its income from fees and royalties accrued through the issuance of state forests permits, licences for sawmills, sawpits and timber depots (lumber yards) and forest products extracted from state forests.

At an early stage it was recognised that the Guyana Forestry Commission has assumed the following major functions:-

(i) To ensure the forests of Guyana are managed and exploited in accordance with the forest act and forest regulations and with the objectives and guidelines set out in the National Forest Policy.

(ii) To conduct basic research and surveys in Silviculture forest inventory and wood technology. The results of these works form an information base which is disseminated to those involved in forestry to assist in the promotion, sustenance and development of this resource.

(iii) To assist in the marketing (especially foreign) of forest produce.

During 1980 a total of 566 State Forest Permits were issued, covering some 8,000,000 acres. At the same time an intensive forest inventory exercise was carried out in the Kartabo Triangle area. This survey was accomplished through a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) grant. In other areas of forest surveys, technicians continued to give valuable assistance to loggers in boundary demarcation, road alignment and species identification. Under the aegis of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), further investigation was done on wood utilisation. In that same year 91 sawmills were operational countrywide and over 9,000 persons were employed directly in logging and its primary wood-processing facilities. Through the Guyana Timber Export Board (GTEB) Act of 1981 the function of GTEB were transferred to the Guyana Forestry Commission and a Marketing Unit was created under the helm of a Marketing Director.

By 1983 new logging areas were opened west of the Essequibo River and mainly along the watersheds of the three main tributaries, Cuyuni, Mazaruni and Potaro rivers. Harvesting in these areas became more intensive with emphasis on higher capital investment and greater species mix. New multi-million dollar logging and sawmilling complexes, such as the privately-owned Interior Forest Industries Limited (Toolsie Persaud) and the state-owned Demerara Woods Limited, began to step up production. At the same time Guyana Timbers Limited expanded its operations. It modernised its entity to facilitate greater timber extraction and it went into the production of pre-fabricated houses and furniture.

Towards the end of 1984 the groundwork was laid for the issuance of a timber sales agreement (TSA) to large enterprises. It was envisaged that large entities would be granted exclusive rights to specific areas for a 10-15 year period, while smaller enterprises would continue to receive state forest permits.

During this period Deutsche Fortinventur Service (DFS), a consultant firm with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) carried out a forestry sector study in Guyana as part of a regional forestry sector study. The reports analysed and made recommendations on all aspects of forest resource management in the country, including the administrative and technical capabilities of the Guyana Forestry Commission.

CIDA provided technical assistance in the preparation of two manuals, a "Forestry Inventory Manual" and a "Manual of Forest Management Planning Requirements for Guyana". Other forms of assistance from this body included technical assistance for sawmilling, a line of credit facilitating capital investment, and the training of staff at the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry.

Following its establishment, the Guyana Forestry Commission quickly became a self-financing institution and by 1985 it was contributing approximately 2.4% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, like other industries at the time, the forestry sector was experiencing difficulties due to the prolonged economic crisis which started in the late 1970s. Loss of skilled personnel due to depressed markets, inadequate monitoring of forest areas and a dire need for capitalisation were all having a negative impact.

Economic Recovery and expansion: 1986-1995

The immediate post-1986 was one of tremendous challenge to the forestry sector and indeed the Guyana Forestry Commission. With the country still in the throes of a serious economic crisis the new Desmond Hoyte administration embarked on an Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Support Group of countries.

From 1986 the Guyana Forestry Commission commenced a one-year certificate course in Forestry and some of these successful candidates subsequently pursued the two-year Diploma in Forestry Programme at the University of Guyana. Such training proved to be vital in relation to work performance. Of significance also was the fact that an area comprising 20,000 acres of forest at Mabura was allotted for the University of Guyana/University of Utrecht and Tropenbos research activities funded mainly by the Netherlands government.

In May 1988 the commission was awarded a contract to supply US$1.5mln worth of lumber to Cuba and in the same year an Agency Agreement was concluded with Saran Sampath, a Trinidadian firm for the supply of lumber over a three-year period.

It was estimated that there were some 41,600,000 acres of Tropical Rain Forest in Guyana by 1989. Allocation of areas by the Guyana Forestry Commission continued to be on a three-tiered system as follows:

(a) Timber Sales Agreement (TSA) for large areas for long-term planning and development.

(b) Woodcutting lease for areas that allow for medium-term planning.

(c) State Forest Permission (SFP) for short-term annual planning for small loggers and sawmillers.

Towards the end of 1989 President Hoyte while attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Malaysia proposed the granting of an area of Guyana's vast forest reserves for research and other environmental purposes. This was followed by a visit of the Commonwealth Forestry Export Group and the identification of an area approximately 900,000 acres in the Essequibo region. This was the basis of the subsequent Iwokrama Rain Forest Project in Guyana.

Export earnings of lumber in 1989 totalled $89,105,519 an increase of 314.9% over the 1988 figure. This significant increase was largely attributable to the 230% devaluation of the Guyana dollar in the year.

In spite of severe constraints in terms of skilled personnel, finances and other resources the Guyana Forestry Commission was able to weather the storm in 1990.

It did reasonably well in areas of revenue protection, resource allocation and financial management through its executing arms - the Resources Management and Development Department, the Marketing Unit, the Forest Industries Development Unit (FIDU), the Finance Department and the Administrative Department. It allotted two new timber sales areas to Nagasar Sawh Limited in the Mabura Hill area and to Amazon-Guyana Limited in the North West District respectively.

The following year, Sunkyong, a South Korean company made a proposal to develop a Forestry Project in Guyana. It applied for a Timber Sales Agreement (TSA) to manage an area of approximately four million acres of forest in the North West District. This was the forerunner to the subsequent new international investment by the Plywood manufacturer, Barama Company Limited (Malaysian/South Korean) a year later.

This company was granted a concession outside the Greenheart belt and in forest previously considered non-commercial.

The emergence of Barama on the local scene has contributed significantly toward an improved performance of the forest sector, in terms of the national economy within the last few years. This Company continues to make considerable capital investment and is easily the largest producer and exporter of plywood. Between the period 1995-1999 its average annual production was 200,000 cu. meters harvested from sixteen species and representing more than 40% of the national log harvest.

Conservation International (CI) a leading international environmental organisation also made its presence felt in Guyana. It supported the creation of a protected-areas system focused on biologically important areas and in this regard an island of rainforest in the Kanuku became a centre of focus. Conservation International followed up by working with the Smithsonian Institute to map biological diversity throughout Guyana. It initiated the study of the Harpy Eagle along with the National Geographic Society and it teamed up with Aid to Artisans, a non-profit organisation to support residents in the sale of figurines. Through its impressive record Conservation International was issued with a 200,000 acres state forest exploratory permit for the non-destructive use of forests in the Kanuku region.

By 1993 it was clear that greenheart and purpleheart continued to be in great demand for the export market. A major concern to the Guyana Forestry Commission around this time was its inability to ensure that the forest "is sustainably harvested and defaulters are caught." Such a situation stemmed largely from inadequate staff to monitor the forests. Associated with this was the fact that some State Forest Permit (SFP) holders were exploiting the forest but were not making the necessary royalty payment.

Another development that engaged the Commission's attention was the proliferation of chainsaw lumbering and the abuse of chainsaw operators. It was the view of members that chainsaw lumbering was causing environmental damage and it ought to be controlled.

The Guyana Forestry Commission became a member of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in 1992. At the same time it increasingly saw the need to adjust its policy on the industry in line with changing times. It effected structural changes to carry out its mandate. To this end the following divisions emerged: (a) Planning and Development (b) Forest Resources Management (c) Forest Monitoring (d) Human Resources and (e) Finance.

The 1990-1995 period saw a steady increase in performance of the forestry sector in relation to the national economy. This is partly illustrated in the following table:-

Forest in the economy

Note: Plywood and sawn-wood production are not included in the figures.

year 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995

GDP $3.319bln $3.519bln $3.792bln $4,104bln $4,452bln $4,677bln

Forestry $71ml $72ml $88ml $117ml $197ml $228ml

Forestry 2.14 2.05 2.32 2.85 4.42 4.87

As %


When one takes into consideration that plywood and sawnwood production are not included in the figures, the performance of the forestry sector between 1990 and 1995 is rather healthy. Forestry as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had more than doubled during that specified period, a clear indication of the sector's increasing importance in Guyana's overall development.

The post-1996 period witnessed an aggressive Institutional Strengthening programme on the part of the Guyana Forestry Commission. This was in an attempt to make "the organisation more efficient, respected and credible and one, which will increasingly become a major contributor to national development." This policy was given impetus through the Guyana Forestry Commission Support Project which commenced in April 1995 and was expected to end in 2002. Total funding for this overall Support Project was 4.133 million pounds sterling, with the British Overseas Development Administration (ODA) and subsequently the Department for International Development (DFID)'s contribution being 3.464 million pounds sterling and that of the Guyana Government 669,000 pounds sterling.

Phase I of the Support Project was completed by February 1999 and the main activities in terms of institutional strengthening were:-

(a) A management workshop for senior managers.

(b) Core value training and other management support.

(c) The preparation of a human resources policies and procedures manual.

(d) The completion of a training needs assessment for the commission.

(e) The introduction of a performance appraisal system.

(f) The preparation of a training policy and procedures manual.

(g) The development of a job evaluation scheme.

(h) The introduction of a new organisation structure and job description.

(i) Training in basic skills, including computer use, English and report writing.

(j) A change-management consultancy, including workshops for Guyana Forestry Commission staff and board members.

(k) Fellowships and visits to the United Kingdom.

(l) Collaboration with the Forest Producers Association (FPA) and others regarding ground work for a National Policy Document.

In August, 1997 the Guyana Forestry Commission awarded a contract to AMA Industries to the tune of $5,453,661 for the construction of a building to house its Berbice Divisional Office/Living Quarters at Fort Ordinance, Canje. Approval was also granted to Frank Gaul General Services to repair the roof of the Commission headquarters at a cost of $4,343,260.

Further steps were taken at institutional strengthening in areas of planning capability and management procedures, transparency and accountability of operations, improved staff performance and training, improvement in working environment and facilities and an enhanced public image.

In 1999 Dr. Aubrey Armstrong, overseas-based Guyanese consultant, was contracted to conduct a management review of the Guyana Forestry Commission, including the holding of a series of consultative retreats with Board Members and Senior Management Staff. He has since contributed significantly in enhancing the Commission's management capability.

The 1996 - 1999 period was one of fluctuating fortunes for the forestry industry in terms of its overall contribution to the national economy. This is partly illustrated in the following table:-

Forestry in the economy

Note: Plywood and sawnwood production are not included in the figures.

YEAR 1996 1997 1998 1999

GDP $5,048bln $5,360bln $5,270bln $5,426bln

Forestry $229mln $264mln $200mln $226mln


as %

GDP 4.54% 4.93% 3.80% 4.17%

The steady increase in the performance of the forestry sector in relation to the national economy during the first half of the 1990s was arrested in the latter years. This was particularly striking between the 1997 to 1999 period. From an all-time high of 4.93% of GDP in 1997 the figure dipped to 3.80% in 1998 and improved only slightly to 4.17% in 1999. This negative development was to some degree attributable to the prolonged socio-political instability that gripped the country following the 1997 General Elections. At the same time one needs to take into consideration the non-inclusion of plywood and sawnwood production along with the ongoing informal and unmeasured economic activity in the forestry sector.

In 2000 renovation works began on the existing headquarters building at Kingston and a new herbarium, inclusive of air-conditioning, electricity and plumbing, was completed in July, 2002. The old herbarium was converted to a library and conference room.

The Commission also experienced deteriorating industrial relations with the Guyana Public Service Union late in the year. It was also faced with the problem of regularisation of illegal loggers in Linden.

By the close of the century Guyana had become a party to several regional and international agreements that commit her to strong policies on forest management, biodiversity protection, respect for the rights of Amerindians and fair employment.

The year ended on a high note with the formal opening of the Renovated Head Office Complex by his Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo, on the 22 of December, 2000. This virtually new, spanking and impressive building was completed at an estimated cost of 150,000 pounds sterling through the DFID Support Project. The Complex adequately accommodates its various Divisions and staff members in a truly conducive environment.

Last month the Guyana Forestry Commission celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Delivering the feature address, Honourable Minister Satyadeow Sawh acknowledged that the entity had made steady progress over the years. He also said that the Guyana Forestry Commission had "matured into an official, well-structured agency staffed with competent professionals who have adopted a customer-based approach."


The Guyana Forestry Commission has certainly come a long way. The prolonged economic crisis of the late 1970s had a negative impact on the forestry sector. This period of crisis was also one of 'change' as in late 1979 the Forestry Department was transformed into the Guyana Forestry Commission.

From 1986 onwards the Commission focused on economic recovery and expansion. This was against the background of the national Economic Recovery Programme (ERP). It was this period which saw the advent of Tropenbos, Iwokrama and Barama and a greater contribution of the forestry sector to the Gross Domestic Product.

The latter years of the 1990s witnessed an ongoing and aggressive Rebuilding and Institutional Strengthening Programme under which the Commission is better equipped to face the challenges ahead. This development comes largely under the British ODA/DFID Support Project. The end result is that the organisation is gradually becoming more efficient, respected and credible.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to note the remarks of Commissioner Singh when he declared:

"We are building on very strong foundations - and we have a very important task to carry out. The Commission cannot and should not do it alone - so we are looking forward to developing strong and productive partnerships with all our stakeholders in the near future."

The Guyana Forestry Commission undoubtedly has a pivotal role to play in the sustainable management of the forest resources and in the forestry sector's contribution to the national economy and national development in the twenty- first century. It is little wonder that its motto has changed to reflect a new vision: "Ensuring sustainable forestry."