IWOKRAMA

THE GREEN HEART OF GUYANA

 

Iwokrama is an autonomous international research and development center that aims to promote the conservation and the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rains forests in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic, and social benefits to the people of Guyana and the world in general. The center seeks to meet its mandate by undertaking research, training and the development and dissemination of appropriate technologies.

 

            If flora and fauna are Guyana’s true riches, then the Iwokrama Forest would be its El Dorado. Occupying approximately two percent of Guyana’s landmass, the forest is the country’s largest protected area and geographically situated in the green heart of Guyana.

            The reserve, and the adjacent North Rupununi wetlands, together, represent an area of worldwide importance in many aspects. The Iwokrama forest plays host to a global, ten-year-old experiment in sustainable rainforest development. This concept was first presented to the international community in 1989 and was envisioned as a demonstration site for the effective conservation and sustainable use of tropical rainforests.  

            The Iwokrama Forest has two zones: a wilderness preserve, and a sustainable utilization area. The latter allows for sustainable use activities, conservation and evaluation of the impacts of such activities in an intact rainforest.

            Iwokrama is managed by the Iwokrama International Center, which has worked since 1996 to develop pioneering methods for conservation and development. Since its inception, the center has also worked closely with local communities in order to develop community-based “green” businesses. This has included the harvesting of aquarium fish, the production of honey and crabwood oil and the sale of locally-made indigenous crafts. The organization is also in partnership with local communities with the aim of developing and promoting the area’s potential as a leading ecotourism destination. A key feature in this development is the fact that Iwokrama has one of the South America’s few canopy walkways that is dedicated to tourism. At thirty meters high, the walkway gives visitors an unparalleled view of the rainforest canopy and its abundant wildlife.  

            The Iwokrama Forest is home to unique varieties of flora and fauna, many of which are only found in this part of the world. The area is also one of only two sites in South America where the river systems of the Amazon and Guyana shield merge. This occurs in the flooded savannahs of North Rupununi and, as a result, the area is blessed with not only Guyanese species, but also remnant populations of Amazonian “giants” such as the arapaima (the world’s largest, scaled freshwater fish), giant river turtles, black caiman and giant otters. The reserve is also considered to have one of the highest recorded densities of jaguar and bat species in the world.

            Iwokrama also has special meaning to the local Makushi people – the area’s original inhabitants. The mountains feature prominently in local myths and legends and are said to be the home of great deities and spirits. Historically, rainforests and mountains were also used as a place of refuge from warring Caribs and European slave traders. Today, the Iwokrama Forest represents an important resource area for the survival of the region’s sixteen Makushi communities.  

            The importance of Iwokrama is unquestionable, whether from the perspective of the smallest North Rupununi village or the larger global community. The center marked its 10th anniversary in 2006, and continues to be at the leading edge of sustainable development and management of one of the world’s few remaining rainforests. Iwokrama is, therefore, more than just Guyana’s El Dorado, it is the nation’s gift to the world.

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