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The Business of Saving Rainforests
Iwokrama is an area of protected forest in the heart of Guyana but can it generate sufficient income without cutting down all the trees?

Written by Lynn

Olympic athletes in 2012 will compete in stadiums made partly from wood cut in a specially protected patch of rainforest in Guyana. Iwokrama is a 371,000 hectare reserve and research centre that is according to its marketing material a ‘model for the world’. Chief Executive Officer Dane Gobin said he wants to prove you can use a rainforest without losing it.

His aim is to create a business in which companies pay for ecosystem services provided by the forest. These include maintenance of the water cycle, a habitat for medicinal plants, prevention of soil erosion, nutrient cycling and climate control. His team has also calculated there are between 15 and 19million tones of carbon stored in the Iwokrama forest.

He said: “It is very difficult to measure things like soil erosion services. The amount of carbon is the most marketable asset but we are more interested in the biodiversity and ecosystem services. We have identified the values derived from the forest but they are almost priceless.”

Having highlighted the benefits Iwokrama is still looking for a demand for the ecosystem services.
Gobin said: “We are trying to replace donor funding with earned income and that is taking longer than expected.”

Iwokrama is funded by a string of international bodies including the EU and the UN, USAID, the government of Guyana and various charities and companies.

It also generates money from sustainable forestry and the amount of trees harvested increased by 60 per cent last year on the previous year, doubling timber revenues. Iwokrama is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council so sells timber for a premium but the conditions required for certification are expensive. According to Gobin the certification costs Iwokrama more money than the mark up on the timber. The company also makes money through eco tourism although the industry is slow in Guyana and there are only 800 or so visitors a year to the reserve.

While the aims of Iwokrama are admirable it looks set to rely on donor funding for several years before it can truly claim to be an effective business model for using the forest without losing it.

Read more about Guyana here.

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