On February 25, 2021, the Government of Guyana through the Ministry of Finance signed a Letter of Agreement (LoA) with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) clearing the way for the implementation for the Biodiversity Mainstreaming Project “Strengthening the enabling framework for biodiversity mainstreaming and mercury reduction in small-scale gold mining operations.” This project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to the tune of 4.5 million USD for 84 months, and will be implemented within two mining districts within Guyana specifically in the communities of Mahdia/Konawaru area, Region 08 and Puruni, Region 07.

The implementation and execution of this project would also see parallel co-financing coming from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MoA), Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) to the tune of 29.6 million USD.

The launch which took place on July 01, 2021, in the boardroom of the EPA and virtually, saw attendance from representatives of partner agencies including those listed above, as well as Conservation International and WWF-Guyana.

During his opening remarks, UNDP-Guyana Resident Representative, Jairo Valvedre Bermudez noted that “the project supports the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and related instruments- the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Minamata Convention, and takes cognizance of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy.” He also noted that the mining sector has been of great concern due to the use of mercury and its impacts on the environment, emphasizing the project’s importance to sustainable livelihoods and human health.

Also delivering remarks, was Ms. Sharifah Razack, Deputy Executive Director of the EPA, who noted that despite major contributions to the economy, gold mining has been identified as a major driver of deforestation, forest degradation, and associated biodiversity loss. It is against this backdrop, that the proposed long-term solutions to address the said problems need to have in place strong policies and regulations, including financial instruments, institutional capacity and coordination, the ability to adequately enforce the framework, and monitoring of the impacts of mining on different environmental parameters. She highlighted that the project will entail substantial training opportunities for miners to be able to put best practices in place suitable to their needs.

Project objectives

The objective of the proposed project is to strengthen the regulatory framework and institutional capacity for the management of small-scale gold mining and to promote greater adoption of environmentally responsible mining techniques in Guyana in order to protect globally significant biodiversity, reduce mercury contamination, enhance local livelihoods and human health. The project also seeks to improve the environmental management of small-scale gold mining in Guyana which is the largest driver of deforestation and degradation in the country and contributes to biodiversity loss, land degradation and contamination.

Project outcomes

To do so, the project has been organised into four outcomes: 1) Policy and regulatory framework strengthened and supported for oversight of the environmental impacts of the small-scale gold mining sector; 2) Increased institutional capacity and inter-institutional coordination to mitigate and manage the impacts of small-scale gold mining; 3) Adoption of more environmentally responsible gold mining practices increased; and 4) Knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation implemented to support learning and upscaling.

Project implementation

From the implementation of the project objectives, the expected global impacts that are going to be achieved include:  a) 6,500,000 hectares of forests of the greenstone belt in six mining districts of Guyana under improved management to protect globally significant biodiversity through support to the implementation of the National Mineral Sector Policy Framework and Actions which seek to balance mineral development with other priorities such as biodiversity conservation, protection of watersheds and freshwater, preservation of carbon stocks and socio-economic development; b) phase-out of 10.2 metric tonnes of mercury in project intervention areas; c) 1,235 miners (10% are women) implementing environmentally responsible mining practices reducing mercury use, deforestation and safety and occupational threats, and increasing gold recovery and incomes; d) 1,209 hectares of high conservation value forests conserved in project intervention areas through improved prospecting; e) 445 hectares of forests and forest land restored  in areas degraded by mining in demonstration project sites; and f) 8,032 persons benefitted through awareness raising, training and reduced exposure to mercury: 1,499 miners (10% women), 2,178 Mahdia residents (42% women); 4,355 indigenous peoples (50% women).These benefits will translate into direct benefits for various species, many of which are globally significant, including endemic and endangered species as well as species of economic importance to local communities and indigenous peoples.

The successful implementation of this project will also lend support to current projects that are being implemented by the Government of Guyana, Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund – Guiana’s.