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Protecting Sustainability and the Matawai’s Forest in Suriname

Half-way between the north-eastern Atlantic coast of South America and the northern-Brazilian border, KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Conservation International Suriname, and the Matawai Investment Fund are collaborating to develop a management plan for the sustainable use of the Pusugrunu Community Forest.

The Matawai community consists of descendants of former slaves who escaped the Dutch plantations in the 17th and 18th century. They built their villages far into the forest along the Samaracca River to avoid colonial onslaughts.

Hundreds of years on, the Matawai community have maintained their culture and connection with their part of Suriname. Today, they are inextricably connected with the Pusugrunu forest by their traditions, legal “user rights” and active area-management.

KIT is part of a large-scale forestry project to help the Matawai develop their management of the forest. Within the project, Conservation International Suriname will focus on the dimensions of the nature conservation and sustainable-resource management. Augmenting this, KIT’s role is to review local economic opportunities connected with the forest. In particular, KIT will pay close attention to economic opportunities that are commercially sustainable and socially inclusive.

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Forestry, Sustainability and Logging

The project is part of a much wider issue as Suriname—like virtually all countries—attempts to balance forestry and conservation. However, in a small country like Suriname (the smallest country in South America) the impact of deforestation is clear and immediate. But the scale of the issue requires some numbers and international comparisons to truly grasp its dimensions.

Firstly, 2.8 million hectares of forests are included in different logging agreements in Suriname—a little under one fifth of the country. Secondly, turning those alarm-sounding numbers into a comparison, we get this: Het Amsterdamse Bos in Amsterdam—one of the largest city parks in Europe—is 10 square km; and The Netherlands itself is just over 42,000 square km. So that would be like logging half of The Netherlands—as in Suriname, 28,000 square km of forest could fall under logging agreements. Finally, the 28,000-square-km-sized threat is spread across less than 165,000 square km of country.

In Suriname—and really anywhere—that’s a lot of logging.

Within that precarious total, 7,000 square km of living-area provide an income for indigenous and tribal communities via community forests. And despite the size of the country, these concessions are often in remote areas, close to nature reserves.

That remoteness is a double burden. It is both far from many people’s daily lives, and affords little protection as there is already limited capacity to monitor the large, distant, nature-reserves themselves. Because of this, in many areas of the country, community and national forests alike now face a major threat from unsustainable use, and worse: decades of increasing illegal logging and mining activities.

Matawai’s Pusugrunu Community Forest

Far away from the main population centres of Suriname, which dominate around the northern coast, the Matawai manage 970 square km of the Pusugrunu Community Forest. This substantial section is about four times the size of Amsterdam. In turn, it borders the 16,000 square km of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.

Across this large, remote area the Matawai have logging rights for their own community’s use and development. However, due to the relative remoteness of their territory they have struggled with income generating activities. As a result, they have had an economic and sustainability problem crashing down through the last decades.

The skeleton of the problem is that in order to earn enough income to meet the community’s needs, they lease part of their community forest to third parties. The third parties then often proceed with destructive activity, such as timber harvesting and gold mining. This puts unsustainable pressure on the forest, and creates a negative-feedback loop which reduces the capital asset of the Matawai while increasing their reliance on less forest.

A Sustainable Management Programme

To combat this, Conservation International Suriname, KIT and Matawai Investment Fund are developing a management programme for the sustainable use of the Pusugrunu Community Forest. A third of the forest—370 square km—are covered by the programme. To protect this verdant, diverse habitat there are three main paths it will follow:

The Team

Conservation International Suriname leads the project and covers the different dimensions of nature conservation. KIT is reviewing local economic opportunities, which are commercially sustainable and socially inclusive. Finally, Matawai Investment Fund consists of Matawai representatives from different authority levels from the community. Among other roles, its representatives ground the project, and are the link between all partners to local Surinamese reality. KIT greatly values the opportunity to work with them and Conservation International Suriname, and shares their hope of creating a source of sustainable income that helps keep the old forests of Suriname alive.

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