Office of the Prime Minister, Georgetown, Guyana, March 3, 2017 – In our National Anthem, we refer to our Guyana as “dear land; green land” and as our “Mother”. We are a fabulously large country- over 83,000 square miles – but do we know our Mother?
In Mexico, when Minister Trotman and I visited, we toured an institute that has done mapping of the entire country’s land resources. Like Mexico, we too need data on the nature of the land, its soil types and suitability for investment and use for agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining etc. It was after that trip, I believe, that Minister Trotman proposed the establishment of a National Land Commission so we can know, like the palm of our hands, the potential of our limited but invaluable natural asset for sustainable use and development. Our national lands policy is not inconsistent with or contradictory to land ownership be it state, private or Amerindian or communal land.
We need to know the suitability of our land space especially as the world faces such challenges as desertification from lack of access to water. We don’t have this as a problem, but in the Rupununi our Government is involved in drilling some 11 artesian wells because the Region in subject to regular and routine droughts, and periodic flooding. Knowing the vulnerability of the Region, Government has decided to create reservoirs to capture and save the flood waters until they are needed in what Guyanese term the hard guava seasons of drought. It is also important to know the vulnerability of our land to say, landslides, as we have read about in Chile where communities at the foot of the Andes are in dire need of drinking water.
Today, while we have the prospects of wealth from oil and gas in the near future, we cannot take our sight from our inland potentials for food security for all of our people. There are very rich countries in the Middle East where oil wealth has not been spread evenly and large sections of the inhabitant’s encounter impoverishment in the face of plenty. We have seen new terms entering the lexicon of these countries, such as “Dutch disease “and “resource curse” where new-found wealth is disproportionately enriching only an elite.
To guard ourselves from such afflictions, we need to turn to our land potential and to ensure that our people not only have equitable access to it, but could be informed through relevant data about the real potential of our land.
We need also to map out strategies for the protection of our land from degradation. We just have to look beyond the seawalls here in Georgetown to see how our shores are vulnerable to tides that slam into our walls, not built to keep people out, but to protect the integrity of our land and to guard against damage to our crops and other means of livelihood.
When I was told yesterday that I have had to address this Workshop, I momentarily returned to being a lawyer- a pro bono lawyer- and combed the plethora of laws in Guyana that touch and concerned land. I review the Land Registry Act, Lands and Surveys Commission Act, States Lands Act, Amerindian Act, Land Prescription Act, The MMA Act, the Mining Act etc. It is my hope that we could have one consolidated tent on land and land rights in Guyana and if this land management effort could achieve anything, it should be the harmonization of these land laws into a tent that is understandable and accessible.
The concept of sustainable development in the land sector is therefore timely.
It was as a result of the challenge to land resources from climate change that, by 2015, World Leaders committed to Sustainable Development and to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
The world woke up, having been confronted by the spectre of climate change, to the threat to food security and clean air.
Guyana is hailed among the champions committed to mitigating the effects of Global Climate change. Guyana enjoys the enviable reputation of being a part of the ‘Lungs of the Earth’ with close to 87% forest cover. We are in the process of refining and pursuing a ‘Green State Development Strategy’. In September 2016, President Granger explained at the UN General Assembly the concepts of Guyana’s “green path” to protect our precious bio-diversity and to sustainably manage our ecosystems.
Inevitably, management of our land has to respect land rights for which there should be lasting resolution. Hence the need for a Sustainable Land Management Initiative/Project which is designed to provide long terms solutions to the way land is managed and sustainably developed in Guyana.
Current Legislation governing the operations of various land agencies in Guyana has significant overlap and leads to an undesirable fragmented approach to land management which creates several serious issues in the short medium and long term. There is therefore an urgent need to review and harmonize these legislations and to address issues of overlapping conflicts that plague land based investments, forestry, agriculture, mining and fisheries in order to enable policy and operational cohesion in the management of land in Guyana. Further, Land Degradation has been an important issue confronting efforts at sustainable land management. Guyana’s REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) platform requires strong Land Use Planning.
Guyana has signed on to several international plans and agreed to key initiative and efforts aimed at mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change. In this regard, the Sustainable Land Management and Development Project is part of these continued efforts to ensure that Guyana’s land resources are managed sustainably for the benefit of generations to come.
This Project aims to ensure that the agricultural, forest, coastal and other land uses and resources are managed as sustainable, for economic growth and social livelihood of our people. This equates to the creation of increased job opportunities for the people of Guyana, with land resources being more readily available for investment. Additionally the people of Guyana would be empowered through access to land and land related resources. It is also part of the roadmap for a comprehensive national land use management policy and need to enhance Guyana’s data collection and records storage and retrieval system.
The major challenge for Guyana is to get the balance right between – on the one hand, the urgent need for equitable development and improved welfare ( including food security and poverty alleviation) and, – on the other hand, the long-term sustainable management of the land.
There is need to address Land degradation, since the integrity of the land is needed to sustain production. Land degradation could affect food insecurity and could multiply incidence of poverty. Therefore, land reclamation is one of the priorities that should be addressed.
There is therefore an urgent need to capacitate and position the GLSC as the leading national land resources management and monitoring institution in Guyana. Land administration requires a 21st century approach, an information system for automation of payments due to replace the manual system currently requiring the use of land registers. Digitizing of GLSC Administration Files at GLSC Head Office and Regional Offices is also pertinent to long term success.
I express my appreciation to the staff of the Commission and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO) for undertaking this very important and exciting project, which I am confident, will have significant and positive long term effects for Guyana’s citizens.
They should be credited for the efforts made at conducting widespread consultation leading up to this workshop.
I look forward to approval of this project after this wider consultation and validation process has been completed as our very existence depends on the sustainable use of land and water resources of our country.