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Associations in name only: small loggers' associations in Guyana/Asociaciones solo en nombre: asociaciones de pequenos madereros en Guyana/N'etre associations que de nom: les associations des bucherons en Guyana.


Small loggers' associations (SLAs) in Guyana are commonly held to be the equivalent of "community forestry associations" in other countries. As at least 40 of the associations include the words "small loggers' association" in their names, that term is used in this article. "Small" aptly describes their status: firstly, under-capitalized and lacking power and secondly, holders of State Forest Permissions (SFPs), the shortterm and least secure of the four types of forest concession licence (1) issued by the national forest service (Guyana Forestry Commission, GFC).

In terms of membership, SLAs are not small, with over 2 000 members. As each member of an association, or a few members together, manage independent chainsaw milling operation(s), the number of chainsaw millers is larger, ranging from 8 000 in 2008 to 4 000 in 2013 (Table 2).


Chainsaw milling (2) that is carried out by or on behalf of local community members is one variant of "community forestry ... understood broadly as a common property resource management approach with characteristics and institutional innovations devised by local people to organize and exercise their rights for the use and management of a forest area for the supply of forest products. Though it sometimes refers to a type of project promoted by the state or donors, it does not refer only to such projects" (Larson et al. 2010: 13). A common element in definitions of "community forestry" is the recognition of the rights of local stakeholders relating to resource use and management of property held in common such as a forest concession licence.

The property theorists, Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop, introduced a typology of three decision levels in their analysis of common property institutions. They termed the first or lowest level the "operating level" which was concerned with the ways in which a given local body functioned. The next higher level was "the institutional regulation of decision-making on the first level . the institutional level". The third or highest level was the national "policy level" (1975: 716). Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop argued that one had to pay attention to the second tier or institutional level to understand the reasons for success or failure at the operating level. A decade later, Elinor Ostrom focussed on the first or operating level. She identified the following "design principles" of successful common property regimes: clearly defined boundaries for both users and resources; clear rules for group membership and conduct and rules that are fit for purpose; collective choice arrangements, meaning that most individuals affected by the operational rules must have the possibility of participating in drawing up and modifying use rules; monitoring of extractors and the health of the resource; monitoring of infractions of use rules and graduated sanctions; equitable distribution of decision-making rights and use rights; the right to organize and a mechanism for dispute resolution (Ostrom 1990).

This paper assesses the situation of small loggers' associations against the findings on best practices of these property theorists.


This article integrates qualitative and quantitative data, including archival research (Creswell 2013). I carried out field research over 12 months in Guyana (February 2006 to March 2007) and in follow-up visits during 2008-2014. I conducted open-ended interviews with SLA members working in the principal logging areas of Guyana (administrative Regions 1, 6, 7, 9 and 10), and in the lumber depots, sawmills, offices and wharves along which logs and lumber were moved and traded. I worked through semi-structured and key informant interviews, building on the relationships with the indigenous and non-indigenous SLAs that I had developed over previous years of fieldwork. I also conducted research further along the supply chain. Field information was triangulated with desk research. Many of my sources cannot be attributed because of the threat of legal action. Draconian provisions in forest law are intended to prevent any leaks. In 2007, the GFC Act was revised to include new Articles (13, 27) that impose a gag order on the disclosure of any unauthorized information, with the penalty for disobedience set summarily at US$ 5 000 and a year's imprisonment in the case of a person, and up to ten times that amount in the case of a body corporate (GFC 2007).


In many global South countries and also in some in the global North, the State asserts ownership on behalf of the citizens over the majority of forestlands (Global Witness 2011: 8, ITTO and RRI 2011: 13-14), irrespective of the long-held claims to customary rights of Indigenous Peoples and/or Local Communities. The contractual terms of forest licences (logging concessions) are generally laid out in statutory forest law. In practice, the allocation of forest harvesting licences through a political patronage system has been described for the Asia Pacific region (Barr 1998, Le Billon 2000, Dauvergne 2001, Ross 2001, Straumann 2014), Papua New Guinea (Telapak and Environmental Investigation Agency 2005), Africa (Ribot 2001), Central America (Wells et al. 2004), and other resource-rich countries (Amacher et al. 2012, Goncalves et al. 2012). That literature documents the concentration of power over concession allocation, the ways in which politically connected loggers exert undue influence over the written contracts and/or in the monitoring of compliance with contract terms. State cronyism and the consequent failures to regulate powerful logging companies have resulted in deforestation and forest degradation in many places, triggering progressive expansion to new forest frontiers (Bryant et al. 1997, Sizer and Plouvier 2000).

By the 1970s, there was little evidence of the promised "trickle down" of economic benefits to the nation at large from the industrial model of forestry (Westoby 1962 and 1979). That failure spurred in part the turn to community forestry initiatives (Arnold 1982). By the 1990s, there was increasing international interest in small-scale community-level logging (Richards 1993, Louman 1996, Wyatt 1996).

In Guyana the first published studies on chainsaw milling tended to be technical in focus, with scant reference to the social or institutional complexity in which the small-scale sector operated (Nicol et al. 2002, Clarke 2005a, Clarke 2005b, Hardcastle 2005). Those studies showed that under current conditions chainsaw milling secured as intensive conversion of log to lumber, was less damaging to the residual forest, and generated higher revenues for government per unit area than industrial logging and fixed sawmills (Grisley 1998, GFC 2005b, Mendes 2006). Other studies (Mendes and Macqueen 2006, Ousman et al. 2005) and the National Development Strategy 2001-2010 (Government of Guyana 1996, 2000) outlined policy prescriptions that advocated support for small-over large-scale milling, based on the ecological, economic and social contexts.


Guyana, situated on the north coast of South America, possesses around 21 million hectares (Mha) in land area, of which 18.5 Mha (87 per cent) are forested. 17.8 Mha or about 85 per cent of the country are publicly owned lands administered by the State. Those public lands are divided into three categories: State Forests, State Lands and Protected Areas. This article is primarily concerned with the State Forests that cover 60 per cent of the country because forest harvesting licences are issued only within this land category (GFC and Indufor 2013: 13). 6 853 Kha or approximately 54 per cent of the State Forests are under forest concessions (GFC 2014: 21).

Chainsaw milling took hold in the hinterland during the decade and a half (1980-1995) when the GFC was almost non-functional in regulation of forest harvesting, because of the lack of resources. From 1989, chainsaws were easy to obtain on hire purchase after the lifting of import restrictions as part of an IMF-supervised Economic Recovery Programme. A downturn in the international market for bauxite had caused widespread redundancies among the mainly African and Mixed-race Guyanese workers in the bauxite communities of Linden, Ituni and Kwakwani. Having no access to farmland, and when all other businesses were in retrenchment, many former bauxite workers used their severance pay to purchase chainsaws. Some rented their chainsaws; others developed their own "ripping" skills to convert logs into rough-sawn boards. Trees were cut inside and outside legally issued logging concessions. In some cases, these new chainsaw millers acted as legal contractors, in others as illegal loggers, rationalized as a human right to a livelihood (Skinner 2013). The chainsaw millers formalized their links with coastland lumberyards and increased their market share.

Within a few years chainsaw milling operations had "creamed off" those remaining preferred commercial species close to accessible waterways and roads. However, their costs of production rose as the travel distances to merchantable trees increased. In spite of the challenges, the numbers of chainsaw millers have increased, reflecting in part the lack of employment opportunities elsewhere in the forest sector or in the wider economy and the relative affordability of entry into the chainsaw milling sector for people lacking formal education or training.

As the economy recovered, from the mid-1990s the GFC began to tighten up on its monitoring operations and regulatory procedures. The GFC monitoring division was re-developed by 1998, and monitoring stations and mobile patrols began in 1999 along the Linden Highway that links hinterland production areas with coastland lumberyards and shipping ports. As the bulk of chainsawn lumber is transported on that highway, the chainsaw millers quickly found themselves subject to regulatory control, including arbitrary penalties mainly for failing to have valid and in-date Removal Permits. Clashes, some violent, ensued between the GFC staff and the chainsaw millers.

In the face of increasing fines and/or seizures of wood, chainsaw millers began to organise themselves, drawing on their experiences of unionization as former bauxite workers (CARICAD 2000). While illegal operators might have no obligation in terms of taxes, fees, and contracts, they also had no rights and little opportunity to bid for concessions or development assistance (Forte et al. 2001). In December 2000, the first small loggers' association (SLA), the Region 10 Forest Producers Association (RTFPA) was formed in reaction to perceived inequitable GFC treatment in concession allocation and in forest law enforcement (Stabroek News 2000). The RTFPA organized a fortnight-long picketing exercise outside the GFC headquarters in January 2001, in which both men and women from all three of the bauxite belt communities (3) participated.

Ethnic fissures in the forestry sector reflected the national racial divide. The post-Independence governments had in turn consolidated an elected oligarchy underpinned by sectarian support, first African (1966-1992), then East Indian (1992 to the present) (Premdas 1995, Khemraj and Hinova 2011). The RTFPA levelled a series of charges against the GFC, including institutionalised racism, discriminatory practices in the award of SFPs, corruption and unwarranted harassment of chainsaw millers (Stabroek News 2001). The RTFPA contested the inequitable distribution of forestlands, on the grounds of natural and environmental justice. After the 2000-2001 protests, the GFC developed rules for SLAs formation and operation. In order to forestall further inter-community joint actions, the GFC encouraged the formation of the Ituni Small Loggers and Chainsaw Operators Association (ISLA) in August 2001 and the Upper Berbice Forest Producers Association (UBFPA) in Kwakwani in 2002, thereby breaking up the RTFPA.

By 2014 73 SLAs held around 7 per cent of allocated State forest (Table 1), or 488 thousand hectares (Kha) (GFC 2014: 15). This area was divided among 128 SFPs, which are the short-term, small-scale forest concession licence issued over State Forests. The SFPs are non-exclusive (4) two-year renewable harvest licences, generally in tropical rainforest already degraded by decades of uncontrolled logging. As short-term renters, SLAs have no security in their "common property". Instead, they are constrained by the higher-level decisions taken at tier 2 of Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop's typology (1975). The following section considers the institutional context under GFC control in which the SLAs operate.


Allocation of only short-term concessions

Policies for chainsaw logging were set out in the National Development Strategy (NDS 1996) and the National Forest Policy (GFC 1997). About 500 SFPs had been licensed in the early 1990s, without backing in policy for such a large number. The earlier forest concessions policy (GFC 1993) clearly indicated an intention of using SFPs for salvage logging in already-devastated forests, in forests scheduled for conversion (primarily for mining) and as a first step for newcomers towards larger-scale and longer-term forest management.

The matching of forest concession allocation to the quality and quantity of the forest resource, first articulated clearly during the FAO-Forest Industries Development Survey (FIDS) project in Guyana (Grayum 1971), was reiterated in the national forest policy: "Size, scope and scale of the forest industry sub-sector shall be related to the availability of timber and non-timber forest resources from sustainably managed forests, supplemented by those from such other areas as may be designated by the GFC" (GFC 1997, section IV B 2 a) and "Chainsaw lumbering shall be confined to areas designated by the GFC" (GFC 1997, section IV B 4 d). State Forests would be managed for long-term sustainability through the award of long-term harvesting concessions and the phasing out of short-term concessions.

Yet, contrary to the National Forest Policy, the SLAs continue to be awarded only short-term concession licences, the majority of which are located far from their home communities. The GFC has not clawed back nearby forests from other concession holders for allocation to SLAs in longer-duration concessions, as intended also in the NDS (Government of Guyana 1996, NDS chapter 30, section VI A 2 d). The non-application by the GFC of national policy on concession allocation leads to increasing degradation of forest areas that should be removed from the production forest areas in order to allow time for recovery by unassisted natural regeneration. However, this practice allows the agency to increase the number of short-term allocations annually and keep the SLAs on a short leash.

Current legal context

A revised Forests Act was approved by the National Assembly (Parliament) in 2007 and gazetted in August 2012, backdated to October 2010. Since that date, the GFC alone is charged with issuing and regulating forest harvesting concessions. Unlike the original Forests Act 1953 and its various amendments, the Forests Act 2009 makes explicit provision for community forests in section 11. It gives the purpose as providing communities with a means of acquiring clear and secure rights to manage and harvest from their local forests on a sustainable basis in order to help meet local needs and stimulate income generation and economic development, and enhance environmental stability. However this section then specifies that eligible SLAs will be issued with non-exclusive SFPs, which have a duration of only two years but may be renewable (GFC 2011a). Those two terms contradict the impression of exclusivity and sustainability. There are as yet, seven years after the drafting of the Forests Act 2009 in 2007, no published subsidiary Regulations which might resolve such contradictions.

There is no requirement under the Forests Act 2009 for SLAs to have a legal personality. A Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA) is a designation under section 11 of the Forests Act 2009. The purpose of the CFMAs is set out in section 11(2). An independent forest monitoring consultancy commissioned by the GFC noted that two-thirds of SLAs in 2011 lacked a legal personality so could not have commercial bank accounts, negotiate a contract or receive donor money directly, further confirming their lack of autonomy (GFA 2011: 43).

Centralisation of concession allocation

Until the mid-1990s the district forest stations held concession maps, shared information with small loggers on available concession areas, and served as a conduit for applications and fees. Then the GFC centralised concession advertisement and allocation so that all scales of operators had to make numerous trips to GFC's Georgetown headquarters (Forte et al. 2001). The efficiencies of centralisation benefit the regulatory agency and large concessionaires based in the capital city. However, it puts the small-scale chainsaw millers at a corresponding disadvantage. Although the GFC would point to the transparency of the SFP allocation procedure since mid-2002, chainsaw millers interviewed in 2006 and in subsequent years claimed that in practice, patronage politics determine concession awards. They reasonably pointed out that a one-time advertisement about SFPs open for bidding in the State-owned newspaper, Guyana Chronicle that is hardly read on the coastland and is not available in the hinterland, was inadequate from the point of view of natural justice. Section 7 (1) (a) of the Forests Act 2009 only specifies that the GFC "shall by public notice invite applications for a concession" and the SFP allocation procedure on the GFC website is not more explicit. (5)

Poorly stocked forests

Applicants for SFPs have to sign that the GFC estimates of forest stocking matched their requirements even though this is not so stated in the GFC SFP application procedure on its website (GFC 2011a). Applicants do not actually check the forest condition in the field (author interviews 2006). However, the value of having legal concessions is that they furnish SLA members with the legal permit necessary for access to GFC-issued timber tags and Removal Permits that are then available for extracting logs anywhere. This is because field checks are allegedly carried out mainly on concession holders who are in GFC's disfavour. According to interviewees, there was no matching of the logging capacity of an SLA to the number of commercial trees still available in the already-logged forests made available to it. Interviewees repeatedly stated that forest areas allocated to SLAs were of poor commercial quality and/or becoming impoverished in commercially desirable species of legal felling size, or were located in inaccessible areas, remote from their communities. In many cases, the road networks within the remote SFPs were non-existent, impassable or difficult to traverse with or without machinery. The AAC is not adjusted in subsequent years, hence there is over-allocation of tags.

No requirement for management planning

SFP holders are not required to have inventories or a management plan, as is required from holders of large and medium-scale concessions, but boundaries should be demarcated (GFC 2011a). All SLA members interviewed confirmed that boundaries were not demarcated and that furthermore such demarcation would serve no purpose in the absence of a management plan and enforceable rules. There are no operational rules so each SLA member operates as a singleton, not as a member of a cooperative, as was intended by the National Development Strategy (1996, section VI C 3).

Economic significance

Lumberyards, wood processors and the building trade had welcomed the advent of chainsawn lumber in the 1980s, both on account of its competitive pricing and because it ended the sellers' monopoly enjoyed by the fixed mills. The small-scale sector supplied an estimated 80 per cent of national demand for lumber, and contributed to the stability of domestic lumber prices (Mendes and Macqueen 2006, Marshall and Kerrett 2010). Nationally, the small-scale sector, that is, the SFPs including the SLAs, accounted for close to half of the annual revenue collected by the GFC in 2002 (GFC 2003), an estimate revised downwards by a GFC-commissioned consultancy to 40 per cent in 2007 (Clarke 2009).

The 73 SLAs have between 20 and 90 members each and are important to local livelihoods (Kerrett and Wit 2009: 3). A 2003 survey of 35 forestry enterprises estimated that the small-scale sector provided employment for 71 per cent of an estimated total of 15 000 forestry workers (Thomas et al. 2003: 22). Table 2 shows that the GFC's estimate of direct employment by SLAs varied greatly from year to year, without any explanation being provided for the variations. It is not clear why employment by SLAs appears to have halved between 2008 and 2013 when the number of SLAs had almost tripled, from 25 to 73 over the same period.

The multiplier effect for local economies is significant. SLAs employ Guyanese, in contrast to the large-scale sector that imports an undisclosed number of foreign loggers and other workers. Small chainsaw milling operations purchase necessary equipment from local commercial enterprises and, in the case of SLAs returned an estimated 70 per cent of income back to local communities (Clarke and Mangal 2006).

Table 3 summarizes the sparse economic data on SLAs in the public domain, extracted from GFC's Annual Reports for years 2005-2012, (6) and its Forest Sector Information Report (GFC 2013). The GFC's practice of not releasing disaggregated information and its inconsistent year-to-year reporting explain the gaps in the table. Nor does the GFC publish data to show what volumes of logs and chainsawn lumber are produced by the individual concession holders or the different categories of concession. In 2012, the 120 SFPs held by 65 SLAs produced 30 per cent of the timber recorded from the small-scale sector (Table 3). On average, the SLAs were about the same size (3.8 Kha) as the rest of the small-scale sector (3.6 Kha) and about as productive in volume of recorded output.

The data show a four-fold increase in the number of SLAs and a three-fold increase in area of State Production Forest held by SLAs between 2006 and 2013. The data on chainsawn lumber in column 6 are not disaggregated. Author interviews (2006-2007, 2012-2014) found that chainsaw milling was carried out in all concession categories, that is, also on industrial-scale, long-term concessions where rentier practices are also rampant. Between 2005 and 2012, chain-sawn lumber production averaged 37 per cent annually of the total national declared timber production when converted to roundwood equivalent, and generally over 50 per cent of total lumber production (column 8).


The SLAs do not demonstrate the features of a successful common property regime enumerated by theorists like Ostrom: each is principally a collection of individual loggers listed in an association that exists largely on paper, compliant with GFC's requirements. What the data on production in Table 3 do not show is the uncoordinated chainsaw milling and marketing carried out by SLA members, each operating as an individual "boss man" over recruited chainsaw milling crews. There are no logging blocks inside SFPs or internal auctions for efficient harvesting; it is "every man for himself' (Hunter 2001, ITTO 2003). The combination of selective logging for increasingly scarce species and repeated entries further degrades the forest. The lack of any coordination or planning at the SLA level means that the individual SLA members absorb all the risks associated with chainsaw milling and are price takers, at the mercy of the coastland lumberyard or Asian log buyers (Palmer and Bulkan 2007, Bulkan 2014a). SLA members mostly described themselves as "hand to mouth", with no savings, and always in debt (Ousman and Bacchus 2008).

The official fiction is that SLA members are the chainsaw millers themselves. In practice most SLA members are rentiers. Membership of an association provides the ticket for a registered member to engage in chainsaw milling, that is, raise finances, engage workers, and secure orders. Membership secures a share of timber tags that can then be used or sold on. The chainsaw millers on the forest floor are subcontractors to individual SLA members with whom they generally have only some loose, informal, unwritten contractual arrangement. They are at the first node of the supply chain, more often than not treated as dispensable and undifferentiated labour. Those chainsaw millers are neither organized nor recognized at any official level. They are generally not selected to participate in technical training courses aimed at improving the "ripping" of the logs into boards, because such courses are open to eligible SLA members. Consequently, chainsawn boards from untrained sawyers have to be passed through a planer mill at coastland lumberyards to provide dimensioned lumber. In other words, the double effort and consequent waste of wood, labour and supplies could be lessened if the fiction of SLA members being the actual operators were openly acknowledged by all concerned.

The associations have no supervisory system in place: the sub-contracted chainsaw millers generally are not registered by the Association, although chainsaw registration is a requirement of the National Forest Policy (GFC 2011b, section III B 2 d) and the Forests Act 2009 (sections 2 and 39).

For their part, there are many complaints by small-scale financiers (in some cases, the executive committee members of SLAs; in other cases, outsiders) against the chainsaw millers they finance. Stories abound of equipment stolen, vandalized or cannibalized; fuel and other supplies used to log and mill lumber for other buyers; absconding of the crew, and other instances signifying a lack of trust on all sides (Skinner 2013). Allegedly, incidents of larceny are more liable to happen when the thief/thieves are helping themselves to wood that was cut by a crew brought in from outside the area as half of the crews are generally recruited from other regions of Guyana.


The GFC, located at tier 2 or the institutional level (Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop 1975) controls access to forest licences and determines whether and how national forest policy is implemented. The revised national forest plan states that "The GFC provides support to small and mid-sized entities through the community forestry programme in areas of governance, financial management, organization support, sustainable forest management, academic vocational training, and also in the provision/access to resources and other capacity-building support" (GFC 2011b). As the examples below detail, the agency maintains a tight grip on some aspects of SLAs.

Top-down formation of SLAs

Chainsaw millers are in theory free to organize themselves into SLAs but that would not lead to the award of a concession licence which is under the purview of the GFC. The GFC set out the following prescriptive "Process" for the formation of SLAs in which the GFC initiates the meeting, decides which chainsaw millers are included and observes the election of the Executive Committee (GFC 2008). After an initial meeting, the community itself, whose name the eponymous associations take, has no role. From that time on, the linkages are between the Executive Committee of the SLA and the GFC:

"An initial meeting is held with the community ... Loggers identified to form the logging association. Selection of Chairperson, Assistant Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, Secretary/Treasurer, and four Trustees. Persons of good standing within the community (advisors and resource persons) ... A letter to the Commissioner of Forests requesting a SFP ... An Asset Register, inclusive of serial numbers of chainsaws, tractors, trucks, and other equipment ... Meeting with CDO (Community Development Officer) of GFC. Identification of vacant Area/ Mapping Dept.. Group visits Area to determine suitability. Filing of application ... Preparation of Constitution for filing with the Chief Co-op Officer's Office at the Ministry of Labour and Human Services. Bank account established in the name of the Association ... Stamp in the name of the Association. Minutes of the 1st Meeting recorded in which decision was taken to apply for SFP" (GFC 2008).

Few of the above-mentioned steps are carried out. SLAs do not have up-to-date Asset Registers, for example. Furthermore, as a GFC-commissioned consultancy noted in 2011, two-thirds of SLAs were not registered (GFA 2011: 43).

Control through SFP allocation

In 2000-1, during the period of antagonistic relations between the regulatory agency and chainsaw millers, the GFC cancelled many of the SFPs held by individual chainsaw millers resident in the bauxite communities of Linden, Ituni and Kwakwani (author interviews 2006). Those concession holders who wanted to continue chainsaw milling had to join one of the SLAs then being formed by the GFC even though the agency lacked, and still lacks, legal authority to require such association prior to issuing a SFP. Some members of Ituni Small Loggers and Chainsaw Operators Association (ISLA) resorted to court action against the GFC in attempts to regain their individual SFPs. None was successful. There is no guidance in forestry policy as to why the 437 individual SFP owners (Table 1) were not similarly forced, as were the ex-bauxite workers, into joining SLAs. SLA members opined that the individual allocations formed part of the political patronage system.

The award or renewal of forest concessions is at the discretion of the GFC. As there is no systematic audit, although required by the 1993 policy, the practice is to roll over concessions that are either in good financial standing or whose holders are politically connected. While the economic and social contributions of SLAs are significant, their early attempts at self-organizing have atrophied. SLA members interviewed in 2006, 2009 and 2010 referenced a number of large-scale concessions that had been left idle for years or were under de facto Asian control but were not similarly revoked. The cancellation of concessions at the end of the contract period (that is, the duration of tenure set out in the GFC policy 1993) is applied only to those concession holders who have fallen out of favour with the government. Evidence for this claim is the selective cancellation of large-scale concessions that were in arrears for non-payment of area fees or minimum royalties or inactive (GFC 2005b). The two principals of the only four cancelled concessions were African-Guyanese, with one also a prominent member of the African-dominated Opposition political party.

In ethnically polarized Guyana (Bulkan 2014b), as most SLA members are African or Mixed-race, the East Indian-dominated government is able to point to them as evidence of its policy of non-discrimination racially in concession allocation. What is concealed is the insecure tenure of SLAs.

Control through SLA Executive Committees

Internally, small cliques acceptable to the GFC comprise the executive committees of the SLAs. This pattern of elite capture is reflective of the authoritarian nature of political and other forms of association in Guyana. Evidence of the GFC's control of the SLAs was provided in a letter dated 6 November 2003 in which the GFC rejected the election results of the executive committee of the Upper Berbice Forest Products Association (UBFPA) on the grounds that no GFC staff member had witnessed the elections. The UBFPA had to hold a new election and elect executive members acceptable to the GFC, allegedly since failure to do so would have resulted in the non-renewal of its SFP concessions and non-issuance of timber tags and Removal Permits. The often-expressed view among SLAs was that they were at the mercy of the GFC's power and had little recourse but to comply with the agency's dictates (author interviews 2006-2014).

Control through Removal Permits and timber tags

The pattern of GFC domination of the leadership of SLAs is duplicated in the associations themselves, and enables members of the executive committees to retain their positions and control of membership. Intense competition to find and harvest commercially preferred trees induces corruption within the SLAs over the allocation of timber tags and Removal Permits (Bulkan and Palmer 2008). Membership of the SLA executive committees provides opportunities for preferential access to the tags and permits and for passing them on to favoured chainsaw operators. The possession of an SFP is more important than the nature and status of the forest covered by the concession. The overlaps in forest and mining licences represent an opportunity for SLA members that are located in the bauxite belt: they apply for additional timber tags for areas slated for removal of the forest and overburden overlaying the bauxite deposits where there is no inventory to confirm the presence of harvestable trees. Those timber tags are then used to "baptise" (that is, legitimise) wamara (Swartzia leiocalycina) logs and other timbers sourced elsewhere that are in great demand for the China trade (Bulkan and Palmer 2008, Bulkan 2012). A parallel situation has been described for Peru:

"The concessionaire provides timber documents, the financier provides capital to loggers ... a government forestry agent by day may double as a paperwork facilitator (tramitador), arranging for the acquisition of falsified documents after hours. The tramitador group ... providing the service of explaining and strategizing with other actors around the complexity and periodic modification of the regulatory system" (Sears and Pinedo-Vazquez 2011: 615).

At various times, SLA Executives have expelled members who were perceived as too questioning of the discretionary practices and replaced them by hand-picked supporters, whether the latter managed chainsaw milling operations or not (author interviews, 2006-07, 2012). There was, as a result, considerable covert disaffection among rank and file members. The SLA members with no record of milling could be relied on to vote for the executive or to "sell" their allocated timber tags back to their benefactors. SLA executives are enmeshed in the widespread practice of timber tag selling and renting of SLA documents (Bulkan and Palmer 2008). In March 2011, for example, Jamaican Customs discovered 122 kg of cocaine in bags thrown on top of 130 apparently illegally harvested and illegally exported logs from Guyana. A Chinese trader had been using the documents of an SLA to acquire wamara logs for export to China. (7) This event showed non-compliance with both forest and Customs laws (Stabroek News 2011a). The log traders make use of Article 241 in the Customs Act (Cap. 82:01) that allows a broker to present documents on behalf of a client. The log traders generally citizens of China or India--pay in cash for the logs delivered to the roadside or to an address in Georgetown. The amount paid is about a quarter of the CIF sale price of the logs landed in China (Bulkan 2012). The traders also pay a token fee of around US$ 2 per Removal Permit to make use of the name of the SFP holder or agricultural leaseholder for passing the documents through the GFC and the Customs and Trade Administration of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). This practice is illegal since the Forests Act makes no provision for the use of brokers to manage documents in this way, to obtain timber grading or export certificates. In addition, it is an offence against section 158 of the Customs Act to make a false declaration of ownership. As the logs had been sold for cash to the log trader/broker, the use of the original owner's name on the GFC and Customs documents is illegal. The GFC colludes in these practices, maintaining the fiction that, "Many community organisations are also now export [sic] forest products to international markets and have expressed plans to expand in this regard" (GFC 2012: 23). It appeared from the Government attempts to quash news of this shipment of cocaine-with-logs that someone connected to a high level of government was involved (Stabroek News 2011b).

Control through application/issuance and area rental fees

The biennial limit on SFPs imposes the requirement to pay US$ 25 (for application fee) and US$ 100 (for issuance fee) every two years (GFC 2011a) as compared with the one-time payment for long-term concessions--US$ 850 every 8 years by holders of WCLs and US$ 1 250 every 15 to 30 years by TSAs (GFC 2003). The complaint--by SFP holders that they have to be up-to-date with all area fees and royalties to secure tags, Removal Permits and SFP renewals while TSA holders are allowed to accumulate massive long-term debts--was also observed in two reports of a GFC-commissioned consultancy (GFA 2013, 2014). A GFC 2005 report on the "summary of indebtedness and payments to date" for 20 large-scale concessions from 1998 to 2003 detailed total indebtedness of US$ 1.4 million at the end of 2003 (GFC 2005a: 85). (8) No interest payments were added to the sums owing. There are no recent public-domain reports on concession holder debts to Government.

As noted earlier, SFPs are allocated on mostly degraded forest, yet pay about the same area fee of US $ 0.19 per ha as are levied on >300 000 ha concessions (US$ 0.20 per ha), which are generally for less logged forests. (GFC 2005a: 57). The official reason given for levying proportionately high area fees on SFPs is that in revenue terms they are envisaged as wasting assets, similar to mining, and intended in the 1993 concession policy mostly for salvage logging of damaged forest. In practice, most TSAs and WCLs have the same "cut-and-paste" management plans, produced by the same former employee of an Asian logging company. In short, the initial cost of pro-forma inventories, forest management and business plans for WCLs and TSAs is not high and there is little evidence that the plans are actually implemented because the GFC does not routinely carry out post-logging checks. The 500+ SFPs (Table 1) do not require forest inventories, forest management or business plans.

Control through penalties

A major and widespread complaint against the GFC is its imposition of administrative penalties for minor mistakes (Forests Act 2009, sections 68 and 70 and schedule 1). The detailed procedure in Section 31 of the Forests Act 1953/1997 relating to "compounding" (9) of minor offences and penalties was replaced in the Forests Act 2009 (Section 71) with the decision on what constituted a penalty or what the fine would be in effect at the discretion of the GFC and with no provision for appeal. This is contrary to Ostrom's "design principles" and to other recommendations for published criteria for decision-making to be placed in the public domain (Christy et al. 2007, Kishor and Damania 2007).

In practice the GFC imposes penalties totalling thousands of US dollars (GFC 2008, slide 31). Through its abuse of administrative discretion in the compounding procedure for minor offences, the GFC has for years been avoiding prosecutions of allegations of offences which have thus not been tested by cross-examination in open court. Some examples from SLA members of the kinds of alleged offences were:

* transcription error in the 9-character GFC timber tag;

* mistake in calculating the volume of timber in cubic metres;

* mistake in writing the GFC-designated name of the timber; transporting timber with a GFC Removal Permit one day after the expiry date (although no expiry date is given on the standard forms for Removal Permit in the Fourth Schedule of the Forest Regulations 1954) (author interviews, 2006-07, 2012).

GFC data on "licences and penalties" in its annual reports 2005-2012--US $708 000 per annum average between 2005 and 2012--show the improper merging of these two items which should be separate as they clearly have quite different origins and purposes. Given that GFC licence fees are low by world standards (Thomson 1994, GFC 2005b), and that at most US$ 60 000 had been raised in any one year from the application fees for three no-harvest State Forest Exploratory Permits (GFC 2012: 30), it is probable that the bulk of revenue reported for "licences and penalties" can be attributed to penalties. The penalties levied appear to be far in excess of what Forests Act 2009 allows when "the offence concerned is trivial or minor" (Section 71(2)(a)).

The GFC reported that the four SLAs in the bauxite belt (10) had paid US$ 46 000 (or 87 per cent) of the US$ 53 000 in penalties imposed on 17 SLAs in 2007 (GFC 2008). A GFA consultancy report on independent forest monitoring noted several instances of the GFC claiming administrative discretion and exceptions for which there was no backing in law but no independent checks to prevent illegality (GFA 2011).


The selective application of national policies and procedures contributes to the failures to produce the expected improvements in livelihood among most members of the SLAs. Instead of moving towards sustainability, SLAs are trapped in the "boom and bust" cycle of harvesting increasingly impoverished forest under two-year licences which may or may not be renewed. SLAs are effectively consigned to the role of risk-taking primary suppliers of roughly sawn boards to coastal lumberyards and of logs to Asian log traders at barely break-even prices. Events and problems similar to those described for Guyana have been described in community forestry programmes in several developing countries, including Cameroon (Oyono et al. 2006), Honduras (Wells et al. 2004), Senegal (Ribot 2009), and Vietnam (McElwee 2004).

The question is how might SLAs extricate themselves from such situations. Globally the recommendations cluster around improved governance, including clear and transparent processes and a limit on discretionary powers exercised by the regulatory agency and the SLA executive committees. Equally important is the need for organic linkages to the local communities, with the aim being to move towards 'locally controlled forestry': "the local right for forest owner families and communities to make decisions on commercial forest management and land use, with secure tenure rights, freedom of association and access to markets and technology" (Macqueen et al. 2012).

Donor and external agencies have contributed to the sense of unfulfilled livelihoods by their excessive focus on forest rules which are selectively applied at best and largely ignored in the more remote areas by national forest services. It was and is unreasonable to expect that legalizing access to State Forest resources would by itself result in improved livelihoods, without paying equal attention to the power asymmetries displayed in the short-term licences allocated and the ensuing consequences.

Sporadic and unconnected training courses are no substitute for on-site long-term mentoring about increasing social cohesion to allow communities to grow in organizational capacity. The nominal 73 SLAs are far too many for government agencies to support effectively. Even simple communication with hinterland communities is challenging for coastland-focused agencies (Rainforest Alliance 2012, Dooley and Griffiths 2014). The 18 conservation and rural development projects supported and coordinated by a local NGO and the non-governmental Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development in the early 2000s showed what can be done with sustained aid and collaborative partnerships. Some of those projects remain entirely community-operated (Forte et al. 2003, Ousman et al. 2005; author interviews 2006-2014).

International donors who are committed to improving forest-based livelihoods and in reducing forest degradation could support the building of autonomous capacity for SLAs and more broadly, insist on neutral policy fora for multi-stakeholder information and debates, involving the SLAs, government, the Parliamentary Select Committee for Natural Resources and civil society. Such processes would enable parliamentary oversight and the ability to call Ministers and the GFC to account. These processes would be in line with the National Forest Policy and Guyana's international commitments to various human rights conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and others. Credible and committed donor-supported policy implementation could lead to improved livelihoods and governance in SLAs and sustainable management of the resource base on which effective community forestry depends.


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Department of Forest Resources Management, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, 2021-2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.C., V6T1Z4, Canada


(1) The terms "forest concession licence" and "forest harvesting licence" are both used in Guyana.

(2) Chainsaw milling means the conversion of logs into lumber using a chainsaw. Other terms used in the literature are chainsaw logging and chainsaw lumbering.

(3) Linden, Ituni and Kwakwani.

(4) "non-exclusive" means that several distinct entities can hold SFP licences over the same area of land.


(6) GFC annual reports were only tabled at the National Assembly on 7 November 2013, although statutorily required annually (Bulkan and Palmer 2014)

(7) "CANU sources have told Stabroek News that when questioned the owner of Aroaima Forest Producers Association (AFPA), which according to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) was the company for which it cleared the logs that were in the container with the cocaine, revealed that he has allowed the Chinese national, who is connected to a well-known restaurant, to use his permit to export timber to China" (Stabroek News 2011a).

(8) The Asian-owned Barama Company owed US $86 000 in 2005, even though that company pays only US $2,211 per annum as area fees on its entire 1.6 million ha concession, perhaps the lowest rate in the world. Barama pays 1/285th of the area fee per hectare paid by small-scale concession holders and 1/154th of the area fee levied on other holders of large-scale (TSA) concessions (Palmer and Bulkan 2007).

(9) Compounding or seizure of illegal produce was standard practice in the British Empire. In some territories, including British Guiana, a proportion of the fine was returned to the field officer. Although a Forest Ranger had the authority to compound a shipment of forest produce, only the Assistant Commissioner in charge of Forest Administration could decide on the matter. One-third of any fine eventually imposed would go to the Forest Ranger who had compounded the logs or other produce. An essential feature of compounding is that the forest crime is admitted and the offender offers to pay the administrative fine to authorised Forest Administration staff.

(10) RTAFPA, UBFPA, ISLA and Aroaima Forest and Agricultural Products Association (AFAPA)
TABLE 1 SFP allocation by numbers and area, 2014

                                         % of allocated State
Classification    Number   Area in Kha    Production Forest

SFPs held by        73         488                7

Remaining SFPs     437        1 435               21
held at least
nominally by

Total of all       507        6 879              100
scales of

Sources: GFC 2013, 2014, other GFC data

TABLE 2 Forest sector employment estimates

                     2003             2008     2012     2013

No. of employed      15 000 (Thomas   26 457   21 713   22 137
persons in the       et al. 2003)
sector as a whole

SFPs                 11 000 (Thomas   n/a      n/a      n/a
                     et al. 2003)

SLAs                 n/a              8 000    6 000    4 000

% of direct          n/a              30       28       18
provided by

Sources: GFC Forest Sector Information Reports 2008, 2012, 2013

TABLE 3 SLAs, total area, production (2005-2013)

                       SFPs held    Total area of
Year    No. of SLAs     by SLAs       SFPs, Kha

2000     1 (RTFPA)        ?12            n/a
2001     2 (+ ISLA)       n/a            n/a
2002    3 (+ UBFPA)       n/a            n/a
2003        n/a           n/a            n/a
2004        n/a           n/a            n/a
2005        n/a           n/a            n/a
2006       17 **          n/a            148
2007         25           n/a            n/a
2008         25           n/a            192
2009        n/a           n/a            n/a
2010         49            81            327
2011      61 or 68         95            376
2012         65           120            459
2013         70           128            488

         SLAs as % State       Chainsawn
Year    Production Forest    lumber *, Km3

2000           n/a                n/a
2001           n/a                n/a
2002           n/a                n/a
2003           n/a                n/a
2004           n/a                n/a
2005           n/a              36 or 58
2006            2                  68
2007           n/a                 74
2008            3                  67
2009           n/a                 73
2010            5                  78
2011            5                  76
2012           n/a                 76
2013            7                  74

          Millsawn      Chainsawn as
Year    lumber, Km3    % total lumber

2000        n/a              n/a
2001        n/a              n/a
2002        n/a              n/a
2003        n/a              n/a
2004        n/a              n/a
2005         51           41 or 53
2006         51              57
2007         35              68
2008         55              55
2009         65              53
2010         71              52
2011         67              53
2012         74              51
2013         87              46

Sources: GFC Annual Reports 2005-2012 in Bulkan and Palmer 2014.

* Not exclusively from SLAs but all concessions. Estimation of
millsawn lumber by (total log production--(logs exported and
logs used for plywood) x 0.4, the GFC standard conversion ratio
for logs-to-lumber).

** 10 non-Amerindian Guyanese SLAs and 7 Amerindian SLAs with
SFPs over 101 Kha and 47 Kha respectively.
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Author:Bulkan, J.
Publication:International Forestry Review
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:3GUYA
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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