Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP)
A Sustainable and Expanding Industry in Guyana
The forests of Guyana are a rare treasure to be respected and conserved so that the benefits that accrue from them can be shared with equity among the peoples of Guyana. In order to ensure this ideal, those who utilize this essential resource sustainably should be supported and enabled so that future generations of indigenous peoples, local communities and the country as a whole may come to accept that it is only through its sustainable use that we can truly count our good fortune in a world of ever depleting and depleted natural resources. To this end there has been an increased effort to maximize the utilization of non-timber products (NTFPs) from our forests. Our indigenous communities have for centuries harvested the seeds of various leguminous trees for their decorative skirts and ceremonial dress. They have used mucru, harvested from inundated and swampy areas to make the various implements of cassava processing, such as the ingenious matapee used to squeeze the poisonous juices from the bitter cassava as well as the sifters used for farine, tapioca and cassava flour that are the staples of their diet. Before the proliferation of plastics and even now, water was stored and palm and other fruit drinks shared in calabash gourds grown to all sizes and purposes. Men and women have traditionally lived in a balance with nature and in a balanced division of labor sustained by the use of renewable forest products.
That many of these traditions continue is testimony to their long lasting cultural appropriateness and relevance. Simple technologies based on sustainably harvested and therefore perennially available forest resources are still the foundation of many of many indigenous, local economies. Currently within Guyana, the most commercially used non-timber product is the liana(Clusia spp.) which is the basis of cottage and small and medium scale furniture production. The result is a product of choice for those who care about sustainable livelihoods and materials that meet the aesthetic and functional needs of the hospitality industry, as well as home and eco-friendly and sustainably conscious commercial enterprises. The term liana is a generic name for woody rainforest vines that attach themselves to the towering trees which form the vast canopy of the Guyana rainforest, while the roots and multiple off shoots of the lianas droop down to the forest floor. Similar in look to the rattan furniture of the Far East, kufa orcupa (clusia spp.) is used for the structural elements of the furniture. Nibbi (Heteropsis flexuosa) is a small vine that grows from the forest floor up the trunks of trees and is used to bind the joints of the kufa frames. It is an important fiber for weaving as well, which gives a wicker-like appearance to many pieces. A fiber of the Itepalm garnered from the growing shoot is made by women in some communities, particularly in the Pomeroon River area, to produce a cord like twine called tibisiri, used in traditional hammocks.
This cord provides a unique, rush-like appearance in seats and backs of more upscale furniture being manufactured from these NTFPs. Lianas are harvested by a select group of indigenous men and are worked by craftsmen and women in communities and in small and medium sized enterprises to produce high quality furniture and architectural pieces. Some of these enterprises have shown their products at international furniture fairs and have benefitted from well known international designers such as Patty Johnson, John Michael Ekeblad, and Tony Whitfield. Liana based pieces have provided the studio stools for Aveda cosmetics renowned for their nature based products. There is increasing interest locally and internationally in products that offer financial opportunities. These also reward the conservation efforts of people who live in and around the forest in their communities. Bilateral assistance has been given by CIDA, USAID, EU and the Caribbean Export Development Agency as well as the Government of Guyana to strengthen and enhance these initiatives at all levels. The work of the Craft Association has been a main beneficiary in strengthening and enhancing local initiatives in basketry and other products made of tibisiri, mucru and nibbi. These initiatives provide skills training and help to bring products to market through exposure at international and regional trade fairs
The new product lines open the space for other non-timber based products (NTFPs) as well such as the reclamation of timber cut offs from logging and the increased mining activity for gold that results in some surface clearing to get to the minerals which are sub-surface. With the advent of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE), there is increased pressure at the policy and operational level for more environmentally and socially responsible utilization of the forest resources. this however, has to be fully institutionalized across all land use agencies in an accelerated, synergistic and coordinated manner. There must also be more commercial linkages to ensure that the sustainable activities such as harvesting of the NTFPs, their value added production, the use of traditional dyes (annatto [red] and genipa [black] for example) and a score of effective medicinals grow to their full potential. The highly developed balata (natural rubber) craft at Nappi village in the southern Rupununi savannah (and in other villages that have access to this NTFP) for example, should again become a more focused activity for support. Guyana‘s Low Carbon Development Strategy should be the mechanism to enhance and strengthen these badly needed sources of sustainable livelihoods and such promising product lines. Beyond this, sustainable harvest and use of NTFPs provide work and introduce new skills, develop craftsmanship and are capable of up-scaling so that indigenous and local peoples can form new enterprises and contribute meaningfully to the national purse, ever mindful of seeing the forest for the trees. They know and have always known that the forest is life for people and the planet. This area offers great potential for new investors since there is an abundance of raw materials to make these niche market products, the harvesting of which is done sustainably by indigenous peoples predominantly. In addition to helping to develop sustainable livelihoods, this can also provide a tremendous strategic marketing opportunity.