Linking Human Well-Being and Livelihoods with Biodiversity Conservation through Ecotourism

Linking Human Well-Being and Livelihoods with Biodiversity Conservation through Ecotourism

Georgetown, Guyana
Project Summary
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Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The project reflects CIG’s commitment to the development of sustainable human livelihoods as vital to the protection of biodiversity, ecosystems, and the health of our planet. The main objectives of the project are to foster the development of successful community-based ecotourism in the indigenous communities in Guyana’s highly biodiverse, unique and important ecosystems of the Rupununi Savannahs as a viable economic alternative to unsustainable land uses. Specifically, the project will provide technical assistance to the communities so that each can develop their product in a cost effective manner, making use of their comparative advantages. CIG organized a 2003 regional tourism ...

About You
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Last name


Your job title

Executive Director

Name of your organization

Conservation International, Guyana

Organization type


Annual budget/currency

FY2010 budget is US$838,000

Mailing address

94 Laluni & Oronoque Streets, Georgetown

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Your idea
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Street Address

94 Laluni & Oronoque Streets, Queenstown



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Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of stewardship of the destination.

Organization size

Small (1 to 100 employees)

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Year innovation began


Indicate sector in which you principally work

General destination stewardship/management.

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What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

To facilitate the successful development of sustainable community tourism enterprises that promotes human well-being and livelihoods while protecting ecosystems and biodiversity.

Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.

The project reflects CIG’s commitment to the development of sustainable human livelihoods as vital to the protection of biodiversity, ecosystems, and the health of our planet. The main objectives of the project are to foster the development of successful community-based ecotourism in the indigenous communities in Guyana’s highly biodiverse, unique and important ecosystems of the Rupununi Savannahs as a viable economic alternative to unsustainable land uses. Specifically, the project will provide technical assistance to the communities so that each can develop their product in a cost effective manner, making use of their comparative advantages. CIG organized a 2003 regional tourism planning charrette and facilitated numerous stakeholder interventions over the past six years, leading to the establishment of the regional tourism association, the Rupununi Community Tourism Association (RTCA) and development of a ‘blueprint’ community tourism development and marketing strategy. A number of individual indigenous communities have been provided with the targeted technical assistance they require to successfully develop tourism enterprises, and form linkages which tie them to the national and international tourism. CIG has strategically taken on a facilitation role, supporting communities’ own efforts and collaborating with and providing technical assistance to complementary tourism projects funded by other NGOs and donors.

Explain in detail why your approach is innovative

The project demonstrates how communities can leverage their abundant natural and cultural resources to create sustainable low-carbon enterprises. It provides a model for other places with significant intact natural ecosystems, where communities desire economic development that conserves their shared heritage The project effectively delivers technical assistance detailed in the community tourism development blueprint and marketing strategy across a range of communities at various stages of development; fostering community-based tourism enterprises; utilizing traditional building technologies, non-timber forest products, traditional agriculture, and arts and crafts. The project is part of the country’s tourism initiative, and represents a critical aspect of Guyana’s innovative Low Carbon Development Strategy, which provides a ground breaking means to combat climate change through avoided deforestation and low carbon economic activities. Since the historic offer made by President Bharrat Jagdeo to place Guyana’s entire rainforest under long-term protection in return for financial support for low carbon development, Guyana has been a lead player in international climate change talks on the role of forests, and is currently working with CIG, the governments of Norway and Germany and others to test innovative ways for the developed and developing world to work together to solve the climate change problem.

Si perteneces a un pais de Latinoamerica y el Caribe tienes la oportunidad de presentar tu iniciativa para acceder a fondos para innovaciones en turismo sostenible del BID/FOMIN (para mayor informacion leer la seccion sobre la oportunidad BID/FOMIN en la pagina principal del Desafio).

Deseo postularme.

Si perteneces a un pais de Latinoamerica y el Caribe tienes la oportunidad de presentar tu iniciativa para acceder a fondos para innovaciones en turismo sostenible del BID/FOMIN (para mayor informacion leer la seccion sobre la oportunidad BID/FOMIN en la pagina principal del Desafio).

Consumidores (viajeros), Operadores de Turismo, Prestatarios de servicios no turísticos (proveedores), Grupos comunitarios autóctonos, Atractivos naturales y culturales.

Indica cuales de estas tematicas cubre tu innovacion (elige todas aquellas opciones que apliquen)

Planificación y Gestión de destinos, Innovación y diversificación en el desarrollo de productos turísticos, Estrategias y herramientas innovadoras para la promoción y puesta en mercado de destinos y productos en turismo sostenible y geoturismo..

Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

CIG’s regional successes include the 2003 charrette, which created a tourism development strategy for Guyana’s Historic Georgetown, Kaieteur Falls and the Rupununi Savannah. This was followed by numerous Rupununi interventions; fostering the development of community tourism products and creation of a regional industry framework (including the Rupununi Community Tourism Association and representation on the Guyana Tourism Authority Board). A blueprint for community tourism development has been created; helping communities assess their tourism assets and plan their development. Technical assistance was provided region-wide; producing vernacular architecture plans for four lodges, and a regional strategy for tourism linkages and marketing. Training opportunities offered by CIG with Iwokrama have resulted in individuals with critical tourism skills.

Model enterprises:
- In 2002, Rewa launched a conservation program to protect Giant River Turtles and Arapaima. In 2004, Rewa built a 4-room lodge (now expanding to 8 rooms). A new partnership with a well-known US outdoor TV personality and tour operator is planning a catch and release sport fishing development. The partnership includes Surama’s thriving conservation-based tourism business which provides 60% of the village’s income.
- With CIG support, Nappi and the Wai Wai have built growing craft enterprises with local craftspeople sell their crafts domestically and internationally.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

CIG's staff is 100% Guyanese; 90% of the field staff are Indigenous. CIG has led a model community consultation process over 10 years to plan for the Kanuku Mountain National Park. The 2003 charrettes included consulting with 300 local stakeholders in meetings in the North, South and Central Rupununi. Regional representatives participated throughout the charrette. Every CI tourism-related intervention has been initiated with region-wide community meetings. The Rupununi Tourism Development Blueprint initiative involved dozens of community meetings. CIG facilitated the establishment of the Rupununi Community Tourism Association which actively participates in CIG’s tourism initiatives. Four lodges are 100% indigenous community owned, and indigenous people hold 80% of tourism related jobs.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The Rupununi is an area of outstanding ecological and cultural value. Community lodges are built with local materials, techniques and skills, the activities and interpretation based on local traditions and knowledge and the foods and services based on local produce, techniques and recipes. The main effort of our interventions are to help the communities to understand that their own traditions and knowledge are their most valuable asset and that ecotourism is essentially a matter of distilling their culture and making it accessible to visitors as a commercial product – in the form of a narrative or story accompanying every event and activity during the visitor’s stay.

Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.

CIG makes the link between environmental conservation and human well-being by fostering the development of conservation-based enterprises like ecotourism. CIG has carried out an extensive education and consultation process with the 18 communities around the proposed Kanuku Mountain National Park, building understanding about forest ecosystems, biodiversity conservation, climate change and sustainable development. Our program works especially closely with the three Indigenous communities directly involved in the management of CIG’s conservation concession, who receive economic benefits from their environmental stewardship. We provide capacity building, training and equipment to assist communities to interpret local biodiversity and ecosystem services to travelers.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

CIG is a not-for profit organisation, with funding provided primarily by private individuals and foundations; the FY2010 budget is US$838,000. CIG also receives project funding from multi- and bi-lateral donors. CIG has 23 full-time and 3 part-time employees, 7 consultants, and one volunteer staff, CIG is affiliated with Conservation International, a US–based non-profit foundation, which operates in over 40 countries worldwide.

Tourism is one of a number of programmes of CIG. CIG’s donors have supported the numerous community tourism development initiatives described in this application. A partnership with a personal health care company provides about $10,000 annually to each of the three communities near the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concession. CIG’s tourism program focuses on partnership development; most initiatives are funded through the joint support of CIG and partners. For example, USAID, UNDP and CI’s foundation partners funded the 2003 charrette, while IDB is financing the largest share of the current tourism development blueprint and marketing strategy.

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? Is there a potential demand for your innovation?

For the most part, tourism is a new industry in the Rupununi, only 25% of the tourism businesses were in existence in 2000. Indigenous communities have the least experience and still require product development and marketing support to successfully establish sustainable tourism enterprises. Already one community enterprise (Surama) is profitable; three other community lodges could become profitable and self sustaining within the coming two years. The Rupununi Community Tourism Association and the newer community enterprises will require further strategic interventions and support if they are to become truly sustainable. CIG is dependent on donor funding in order to continue to support this initiative.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

The key barrier to community tourism development in the Rupununi is the short time period we have to prove the viability of ecotourism as an option to resource consuming alternatives. The improved road and the new bridge linking Brazil to Guyana is leading to rapidly growing pressure on the land and resources of Southern Guyana. Growing commercial interest from Brazilian rice and soybean farmers, miners and other industrialists in the Rupununi Savannahs is driven by the shortened transportation route of more than 500km from northern Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean, through Guyana. The challenge of community tourism development is to quickly and effectively provide a viable alternative to unsustainable practices that enables and empowers communities to benefit from conserving their cultural and natural resources. Funding must be found in the near term to support communities to develop their tourism products and successfully market them. Technical assistance is required especially in the areas of infrastructure, product and interpretive development and management; community governance and marketing. Resources are needed to support the RCTA to implement the regional marketing strategy and foster the partnerships with the private sector which are critical to delivering the tourist markets which make the community efforts profitable.

What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

Much of the technical assistance we have provided to the indigenous communities of the Rupununi is relevant to community ecotourism efforts worldwide. The specific advice about infrastructure, product and interpretive development and tourism linkages and marketing could be developed into user friendly illustrated guides and a standardized best-practices field trip which could empower communities to be more efficient about their own tourism development efforts, even where project support is in short supply. The development of tourism planning charrettes, simple illustrated guide books and a standardized and wide ranging best practices field tour could bring the lessons of the Rupununi experience to much wider audiences.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

Since the late 19th century Guyana has been known as a gateway to the South American tropical forests. The Rupununi region including Kanuku Mountains are within the Guiana Shield, the world's largest remaining tract of tropical rainforest wilderness and a conservation priority as a massive carbon sink and critical to stabilizing the weather patterns in Northern South America. CIG became active in Guyana in 1990, working to strengthen people-centered conservation. CIG has supported the government and indigenous communities on numerous initiatives to conserve critical biodiversity while fostering sustainable community economic development opportunities.

In 2002, the CIG partnered with the Government to pioneer the "conservation concession” concept, leasing 200,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concession, on land previously slated for logging. Indigenous communities in the area now directly benefit from the concession's Community Fund, which provides resources to support environmentally and economically sound, (often tourism related) projects. The concession model has since been replicated in several other countries, protecting more than two million acres in some of the world's most critical biodiversity conservation areas.

In 2004, the government granted land title for 1.5 million acres of primary forest to the Wai Wai indigenous community in southernmost Guyana. With support from CIG, the Wai Wais manage the Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, Guyana’s first community-owned and largest protected area, and forward a conservation-based economy on the principal of sustainable use of natural resources. The Wai-Wai now welcome visitors, and have a growing traditional Wai Wai crafts industry.

When the Guyana government decided to establish a National Protected Area System, CIG was invited to be the lead agency in developing the Kanuku Mountains National Park as a model. The Kanukus are home to incredible biodiversity, including 60 percent of Guyana’s forest-based bird species and 70 percent of the country's mammals. A 10-year participatory process with local communities, government and the private sector recently lead to an agreement on proposed boundaries with a perimeter of 590km. The proposed park includes no community lands; shared decision-making will be ensured by co-management structures established between Government and the communities. CIG’s relationship with the Communities allows it to play a key facilitating role in the development of ecotourism in the region, based on a long history in supporting ecotourism enterprise development.

CIG works in close partnership with the million acre Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, one of only two legally-protected areas in Guyana.

CIG’s tourism program originated out of the initiatives to establish protected areas in Guyana, and is specifically aimed at empowering Amerindian communities to realize economic benefits from sustainably utilized protected areas.

With the construction of the Takutu Bridge and the upgrade of the Georgetown-Lethem Road, the Rupununi Region is now under further threat from intensive industrial development. A viable community tourism industry will provide a unique and competitive means to mitigate these environmental and social impacts often associated with trans-border crossings and forest roads.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

David Singh, Executive Director for CIG, has over ten years experience in conservation and natural resource management. A former University of Guyana senior lecturer, he has held several leadership positions in Guyana. As Director General of the Iwokrama International Centre. He led in the formalizing of community shareholding relationships. He assisted in the establishment of the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency, and served as the inaugural Chairman of the Environmental Assessment Board. With a broad range of experience in strategy and leadership, managing field-based operations, facilitation of complex stakeholder relationships, he has built effective teams in difficult and complex institutional circumstances.

Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.

Rewa, located at the confluence of two of Guyana’s most biodiverse rivers, provides a world class wetlands-based wilderness/wildlife experience. Monkeys and otters are commonly observed from the lodge - overlooking a bend in the Rewa River.

Nappi is the centre of Guyana’s revived balata (latex) crafts industry. The lodge, located on the proposed Kanuku Mountain National Park boundary and within a few hours of numerous spectacular waterfalls, is developing balata themed décor and crafting activities.

Yupukari, located along the banks of the Rupununi River, is home to Caiman House and its Black Caiman Research Program. Visitors accompany the research team and assist in data collection. The “Creatures of the Night” Tour allows visitors an excellent opportunity to observe nocturnal wildlife.

Konashen: The Wai Wai retain many traditional crafts including cassava shredders and hair combs that are highly prized in the region. Although the community is extremely isolated, their crafts bring benefits of the wider market.

Surama, the 2009 Educational Travel Community’s Responsible Tourism Showcase Honoree, has the best developed interpretation and community integration; Surama began hosting tourists since 1994.

Wowetta’s exceptional primary forest hiking trail ends at a Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock lek, where as many as 30 fluorescent orange birds display daily.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Volunteer conservation tourism: with scientists, researchers and companies such as Earthwatch to assist with developing, marketing and enabling programs that combine scientific field research, conservation and experiential education.

Marketing: a NG Geotourism map guide, an amazing and powerful destination video and other marketing actions to convey information about Guyana’s critical and fragile biodiversity, the unique culture of the people of the Rupununi and attract ecotourists

Business training and mentorship: communities need help to develop and implement business and marketing plans, and to acquire business skills.

Guides: training and equipment to reach international interpretation and group management standards of excellence

Investment: to support the development of lodges, purchase of equipment and other tourism capital and infrastructure.