|Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are three small countries in the North of South America that together are often referred to as the Guianas. They cover an area of about 46 million hectares, eighty to ninety percent of which lies on the Guyana Shield, consisting of ancient Precambrian rocks. The rest lies on the relatively recent sedimentary deposits of the coastal plains. Population density of the Guianas is low (about three people per square kilometer, FAO 2005 ) and most of the population can be found along the Atlantic coast. Transportation is difficult and usually is by air or water, although some roads go inland and a new highway is under construction between Georgetown, capital of Guyana, and Brazil.
Eighty to ninety percent of the total land area is forest area. Most of it has not been intervened for logging, mining or agricultural purposes. Forests are considered to be State owned. In Guyana and Suriname the State allows communities to harvest timber on community lands while companies have been assigned concessions for that purpose. The state services administer the forest lands and monitor and control the application of the Law, but all management activities (planning, implementation, monitoring of the impacts) are responsibility of the companies. In French Guiana, territory of France, harvesting is done by private companies under strict supervision of the State forest service, which also performs most forest management activities.
The forests of the Guianas can be classified as Seasonal Evergreen Forests. Their geographic location makes them of special value, both commercially, as well as for conservation. A relatively large part of all the species that occur in the Guianas are typical for these forests: forty percent of the flowering plant species occur only on the Guyana Shield (Ek 1996). Some of these are commercially very important (e.g. Green heart (Chlorocardium rodiei)). Many of the tree species are long lived, have large seeds and grow slow to very slow. As a consequence, they need a long time to replace any volume harvested. Some species grow so slow that the passed and current harvest rates already have had a great impact on their commercial stock.
The Guianas can be seen as the cradle for forest management in the tropical forests of Latin America. As early as the sixties, formal research into natural forest management started in Suriname, resulting in recommendations for the application of a management system in the early nineties: well planned and controlled logging operations, followed by silvicultural treatments aimed at increasing growth and the proportion of commercial species in the harvested forests. Much of the information collected during the timber harvest and silvicultural trials has been used in other Latin-American countries as a base for their own management prescriptions.
In Guyana, the TROPENBOS foundation performed very useful research on the impacts of forest management in the nineties, while French Guiana is above all known for its botanic research.
One of the great challenges for the forestry sector is to broaden the number of species harvested. This should result in lower demands on each single species. At the same time it will allow a greater volume harvested per hectare, and thus reduce the cost of harvesting per cubic meter, as well as concentrate harvesting in smaller areas.
Another challenge is the implementation of sustainable management. Although much is known already about how to prevent serious damage to the forest, habit and the quest for short term profits make that few of these techniques are currently applied. Joint efforts are made by companies and non governmental organizations aimed at internationally certifiable forest management. In 2005, the Barama company in Guyana was the first company in the Guianas to achieve certification (FSC 2006).