Helping an Old Forest: Sustainability and Matawai’s Community 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 (CI-S) and the Matawai Investment Fund (MIF) are collaborating to develop a management plan for the sustainable use of the Pusugrunu Community Forest.

The Matawai in Suriname have user rights and manage the 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.

The large-scale forestry project will see CI-S focus on the dimensions of the nature conservation and sustainable resource management, while KIT will review local economic opportunities. KIT will pay close attention to opportunities that are commercially sustainable and socially inclusive.

In Suriname 2.8 million hectares of forests are included in different logging agreements. To put that in perspective: that’s 28,000 square kilometers of forest in a country just under 165,000 square kilometers. Within that total, 770,000 hectares provide an income for indigenous and tribal communities via community forests. Many of these concessions are close to nature reserves. Because there is limited capacity to monitor the nature reserves and community forest areas there is a major threat of illegal logging and mining activities.

Matawai’s Pusugrunu Community Forest

The Matawai manage 97,000 hectares of the Pusugrunu Community Forest—a section about four times the size of Amsterdam. This in turn borders the 1.6 million hectares of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR). A community forest gives logging rights to the community for their own use and for the development of the community. Due to the relative remoteness of their territory, the Matawai community struggles with income generating activities. In order to earn income needed to meet the needs of the community, they lease part of their community forest to third parties. These third parties then proceed with destructive activity such as timber harvesting and gold mining, putting unsustainable pressure on the forest.

A sustainable management programme

To help relieve the pressure on this verdant habitat, CI-S, KIT and MIF will develop a management programme for the sustainable use of 37,000 hectares of the Pusugrunu Community Forest. This programme will map the ecosystem services in the Matawai area to prioritise income-generating activities and develop inclusive value chains, with a specific focus on non-timber forest products (NTFPs). The project will also produce a Conservation Agreement which provides tangible benefits in exchange for effective conservation of high-priority areas.

The team

CI-S leads the project and covers the dimension of nature conservation. KIT will review local economic opportunities which are commercially sustainable and socially inclusive. Lastly, MIF consists of Matawai representatives from different authority levels from the community. They they are directly involved as a partner in the programme.