Guyana’s rainforests play a central role in expanded eco-tourism efforts

Image of Guyana's Kaiteur Falls and surrounding rainforest via Canva Pro.

By Vishani Ragobeer

This story was first published on the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. An edited version appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Despite the large oil find that has been a boon to Guyana's economy, the nation is still striving for economic diversification. One strategy involves expanding its ecotourism sector by capitalising on its expansive forest cover.

Guyana is situated along the northern coast of South America. Its rainforests — with over 18 million hectares of trees — are home to an abundance of biodiversity and natural attractions like waterfalls and mountains, making the country an ideal ecotourism destination. Apart from attracting tourists with its intrinsic natural beauty, however, Guyana is also converting swaths of rainforest into eco-villages, with timber from these areas being used to construct urban eco-lodges within the villages.

In August 2023, the product of one of these eco-ventures was opened in Great Diamond, East Bank Demerara, near a new highway and just a few minutes away from the country’s national stadium in Providence.

Opened just in time for the Guyana leg of the 2023 Caribbean Premier League, a popular regional cricket tournament, the eco-village, which contained 30 wooden eco-lodges, became an accommodation option for tourists attending the tournament.

Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali called the eco-friendly venture an example of the types of projects that could benefit multiple sectors, including tourism and manufacturing.

Built on just two acres of land, the 30-unit development was first announced in February 2023 as part of DuraVilla Homes Guyana Inc.'s 1000-plus timber housing project, which demonstrated how urban eco-lodges can be both functional and luxurious. Wood was used for not only the structural aspects of the eco-lodges, but many other building components, as well, leaving little timber to waste.

There are plans to expand the project to rural and hinterland areas, where similar structures already exist in Indigenous communities. In fact, several communities — via funds earned through Guyana’s carbon credits venture — are seeking to build additional structures in order to benefit from the national focus on attracting more eco-minded tourists.

Another key dimension of the urban eco-lodge project is that it seeks to empower Guyanese women, many of whom are pooling their funds — some of which they can access through state support — to purchase units in the new eco-villages.

Private developers have reportedly been expressing interest in investing in eco-lodge ventures in different parts of the country, including on Leguan, one of the more substantial of the 300 islands located in Guyana’s huge Essequibo River.

Rafeek Khan of DuraVilla Homes said that Guyana earned about USD 34.5 million from forestry exports at the end of 2022, and surmised that by the end of 2023, the company's 1,000-plus homes project had the potential to increase Guyana’s earnings by USD 60 million.

Building eco-villages is not the only economic venture that Guyana’s forestry sector is contributing to, however. The country is also constructing prefabricated houses aimed at satisfying the huge housing demands both locally and across the Caribbean. Thus far, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) neighbours like Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are among the countries sourcing these houses from Guyana.

The country also hopes to earn revenue from protecting its forests. For years prior to the discovery of oil, Guyana has focused on keeping its forests intact. Even with a lucrative timber sector, the country’s annual deforestation rate averages at about 0.06 percent — a whopping 90 per cent lower than other tropical countries.

Since venturing into the carbon credits market at the end of 2022, Guyana has secured a deal worth at least USD 750 million, up to 2030, with the American oil firm Hess Corporation.

Given the financial benefit, Guyana plans to secure more of these deals to keep the forests intact. Its central argument has been that these forests provide a global service by trapping fossil fuel emissions like carbon dioxide.

Are the eco-village and timber home ventures, therefore, in conflict with this argument? Khan says no, claiming that plans to expand the forestry sector do not conflict with Guyana’s forest-saving agenda since less than one percent of Guyana’s forests are allocated to timber production and local producers “barely use a third of that allocation.”

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