Government on Wednesday announced that it would soon be launching a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to enquire, examine and make recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding land titling.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon made the announcement while addressing the opening ceremony of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) Land
Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Workshop at the Pegasus Hotel.
The workshop, the first of three to be held, has as part of its intended outputs, the development of a Land Degradation Neutrality Programme (LDNP) for Guyana. It will also determine the scope, implementation mechanisms and financial arrangements associated with the development of a country work programme, as well as the creation of public awareness programmes.
Harmon said land degradation represented one of the biggest environmental challenges of all time. This concept, he said, of which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by one or a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land addressed this issue that affected the entire planet and should be the concern of all.
According to Harmon, the Commission, which should be announced by President David Granger shortly, will seek to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by free Africans and Amerindian land titling claims.
According to a report conducted by the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) almost one-third of the indigenous villages in Regions One (Barima-Waini) and Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) have no legal land rights, while only one community out of 29 titled Amerindian villages considered its title to be adequate for its people.
The report provided detailed evidence of land rights violations and land conflicts affecting indigenous peoples in Regions One and Two.
The authors of the report conducted surveys on the land rights situation of 35 indigenous villages and communities in Region One and seven villages in Region Two. It discovered that two-thirds of titled villages highlighted that settlements and homesteads are also left outside their titled land.
Nevertheless, the report made a series of grassroots proposals for action to address indigenous peoples’ land claims and grievances with specific recommendations for Village Councils and the National Toshaos Council, the Government of Guyana and international agencies.
In 2011, the APA was tasked by its members to conduct a participatory study on the land rights situation facing indigenous communities. The aim was to help Village Councils advance their land claims and to provide information for national projects and initiatives that address indigenous peoples’ lands and forests.
It was highlighted that weak land governance and flawed boundary survey practices, along with discriminatory national laws on land and resource ownership, often prevent satisfactory and fair land titling for indigenous communities.
Minister Harmon, who is the National Political Focal Point in Guyana for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said while the country is fortunate that land degradation was not in the critical advanced stage, as in many other countries, the opportunity has presented itself for Guyana to pursue a preventative and proactive programme instead of a treatment approach.
According to the GLSC, land degradation is characterised by the reduction and loss of the biological and economic productive capacity of land. It is a global phenomenon, with often-immediate detrimental impacts at the local level, caused by human activities and exacerbated by natural processes such as climate change.
“We are aware of such occurrences as improper farming practices; improper mining practices and salt-water intrusion that all contribute to the reduction and loss of land productivity and quality. The establishment of a land degradation neutrality programme for Guyana under the auspices of the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is, therefore, most welcomed,” Minister Harmon said.
He noted that the issue represented one of the biggest environmental challenges in the world and Guyana takes seriously its responsibility to the international community as a country located at the centre of the Guiana Shield. Guyana’s commitment to the preservation and promotion of a healthy global environment was first demonstrated in 1989 with the establishment of Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation, in collaboration with the Commonwealth. Subsequently, Guyana ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in September 1997 and since that time, the country has been actively involved internationally in matters related to the protection of the environment.