Protecting Forests
by Protecting Rights

Guyana's scramble for land rights

Forests cover nearly 85% of Guyana and some 80,000 indigenous people make up the majority of the population in those regions.

Indigenous communities are key to protecting the forest, and in Guyana, indigenous customary lands cover large extents of the interior. The government of Guyana has an international commitment to conserving an additional 2 million hectares of forest – the majority of which would overlap with customary indigenous lands. 

Indigenous peoples' ability to exercise control over their forest lands, as well as participate in policies and programs related to REDD+ and low-carbon development, is therefore critical.


Amerindian land titles

Nearly 100 Amerindian villages have been titled, and according to official sources, at least another 50 villages are pending title. Nonetheless, vast swathes of community forest lands in Guyana remain without legal recognition despite persistent efforts on the part of indigenous peoples.  Untitled territories include large-scale customary lands which indigenous peoples have claimed since at least the 1960's.  This represents enormous potential to both protect forest and uphold human rights.

On the other hand, lack of formal land titles has left the majority of Amerindian communities – and the forest resources they depend on – vulnerable to large-scale logging, mining, and poorly-planned infrastructure development.

Amerindian villages
in Region 8, Guyana

Amerindian titles
in Region 8

Customary Amerindian 
hunting, fishing, gathering 
grounds and sacred sites

Mining licenses 
in Region 8

Important use area for Amerindian communities in Region 8

Recognition of indigenous land rights in Guyana is critical. Indigenous peoples are actively working for this by:

Pushing for revision of relevant legislation – communities have long argued for revision of the 2006 Amerindian Act, to bring it up to international standards. This would go a long way towards recognizing collective territories, as well as the rights of indigenous communities to the natural resources on their land. The current administration is committed to revision of the Act.

Mapping their lands, documenting customary use and traditional knowledge –current titles do not cover the full extent of traditional or customary lands, leaving many large gaps where mining concessions are being granted. Communities are documenting those gaps through extensive fieldwork, community-wide discussions, participatory mapping exercises and groundtruthing of important sites.

Monitoring their lands – Wapichan and Akawaio communities are monitoring their lands to protect them from mining and other threats.

Strengthening internal governance and the role of youth and women – three new District Councils – representative bodies of elected Chiefs – have taken shape, and will play a key role in natural resource management at regional levels and coordinating interactions with external actors. Youth are being trained on a range of topics, from indigenous rights and participatory research methods to mapping and video making. Women are taking the lead on livelihoods initiatives, to consolidate control and sustainable use of their lands and resources.