Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: See "Timber Industry 'Out of Control,' Agency Says " for a related article.]

Asian Loggers Targeting Amazon Rain Forest

by Bert Wilkinson

Brazil and Guyana most severely impacted
(IPS) GEORGETOWN -- International environmental lobby groups, never shy in condemning deforestation in Guyana and neighboring Suriname, have underscored the role of Asian timber companies in the area.

In its recent report "Logging the Planet," Greenpeace argued that Asian logging companies are lining up to "significantly impact the Amazon rainforest, changing forever the ecological and economic composition in the general Amazonian area."

"By opening up the heart of the Amazon to large-scale logging, the Brazilian government risks accelerating rates of deforestation and losing its already fragile political capability to ensure adequate control," the report said.

Observers say although the article was clearly aimed at Brazil, Guyana and Suriname, it spoke more so to Guyana because of recent happenings in that South American country.

About 30 percent of Guyana has been farmed out to timber companies
The report was released locally just days after the Guyanese government signed a memorandum of understanding with a third Asian country, Solid Timbers Ltd., giving it exploratory rights to a large area in the newly opened central-southern part of the country.

The government has already signed similar agreements with Kwitaro Investments and Berjaya Corporation. A fourth company, reportedly Canadian, is next in line, officials say, in this phase of state attempts to turn Guyana's forests into a cash crop.

The recent agreement with Kwitaro gives that company a right to do an inventory on 303,000 hectares of pristine forest in the central region. A similar concession has been given to Berjaya. This deal means Berjaya and Kwitaro have joined Barama and Unamco on the list of large Asian firms harvesting in Guyana. These three new ventures are expected to provide 2,000 jobs and financial inflows to the tune of $200 million.

The entry of the hitherto unknown Solid Timbers Ltd. into Guyana is part of a general new policy of letting in timber companies, by first granting them rights to exploit the forest stock for commercially viable species and later winning actual harvesting contracts if authorities are satisfied with their general practices.

Solid Timbers, like Kwitaro Investments and Berjaya in the last month, will do feasibility studies on hundreds of hectares of pristine lush green forests. If the company actually satisfies the authorities, the firm could get a further two-year exploratory lease as a forerunner to an actual harvesting permit.

Although officials here have been careful to explain that the three companies will not be cutting trees for a while, Greenpeace remains skeptical and it made its concerns clear in the report. It says the Asians have expanded their operations in the South Pacific, Africa and now Latin America to compensate for dwindling reserves back home, due largely to unfriendly environmental practices.

About 30 percent of Guyana's 215,000 sq km land mass has so far been farmed out to timber companies. Some 75 percent of the country is covered with forest, with 90 percent of the population living on a narrow coastal strip.

Forest Commissioner Clayton Hall and President Sam Hinds answer critics of current policy by saying that an equal portion of the country has been set aside for internationally-supervised conservation projects exemplifying sustainable and economic development existing side by side.

Another 12 companies, many of them from Asia, have lodged applications with the government, but Hinds says Kwitaro, Berjaya, Solid Timbers and the yet to be named Canadian company have been pushed to the top of the list because their backgrounds have checked out.

The timber industry last year brought in just under $80 million in government revenue.

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Albion Monitor May 18, 1997 (

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