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Guyana village women combine mangrove protection with small businesses

by Johann Earle | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 7 November 2012 16:45 GMT

Women in a Guyanese village, backed by European Union and government cash, are combining work to protect their coastal mangroves with small commercial businesses which they hope will grow

VICTORIA, Guyana (AlertNet) - Women in a seaside village in Guyana, backed by government and European Union funding, are combining commercial activities like beekeeping and food processing with spreading the word on the importance of protecting their coastal mangroves.

The women of Victoria, an east coast village, are taking part in the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project, which currently generates only modest employment and income but has the potential, they believe, to produce good economic returns.

Carlotta De Jesus, chairwoman of a body involved in the project, told Alertnet in October “I am also a tour guide and beekeeper. We teach people the various benefits of having the mangroves. They not only protect us from the sea but also provide a habitat for animals and fishes.”

“That is one part of it...the other part is that there are women in the community who do things for themselves, such as food condiments, in addition to assisting with the education and awareness of the mangroves,” she said. “In return, we package, label and market their products for them.”

The project began in 2010 and will end in August 2013, when the EU/government funding will end and the village committee will take over the project. Its members say they will seek funding from donor agencies to keep up the work in a sustainable way.

De Jesus’s group is actively engaged in meeting people in the village. “We have a team that goes through the community house to house spreading the word about the need to protect the mangroves. We put particular focus on the people who live near the canals and near to the seaside,” she said.

Fewer than 35 people are directly involved in the project, in a village of between 4,000 and 7,000 residents.

The first time the group tried to plant new mangrove trees, the young plants died because of the constant erosion of the seashore, De Jesus said.

To combat this, the government is financing the positioning of concrete structures on the beach to break the waves’ force, limit erosion and protect new mangrove seedlings.

Asked how the group measures its effectiveness in making people aware of the importance of protecting mangroves, De Jesus said people used to ask what was interesting  about “the bush” out there

“We used to have people cutting, burning and otherwise using the mangroves, for purposes such as tying up their boats and in their gardens,” she said,

“But after they get to know the uses of the bush and see people coming … to see what is there, they realise the importance of protecting it.”

“They know also that if the water comes up really high the mangroves are there for our protection and we would be protected,” she said,

Local schools, too, are now telling people how mangroves protect the coast, De Jesus said  “That is one of the best ways of spreading awareness - the children go home and tell their parents that they shouldn’t be cutting the mangroves or grazing their animals on the seashore as they will destroy the young mangrove plants.”

Of their other activities, she said that beekeepers do not make a profit immediately because they have to wait until it is time to harvest the honey. “But in the long run it is profitable,” she said. The more hives one has, the more profitable the business. She wants to double the number of hives in her apiary from the present 20.

Carlotta's husband, Colin De Jesus, is also a beekeeper, tour guide and protector of the mangroves. Some days work in the apiary is easy, but “The extraction time is the worst, because then the bees are very aggressive,” he said. “You have to prepare to get a lot of stings, even with the bee suit on.”

Asked why beekeepers get stung even while wearing protective bee suits, he said “remember we are dealing with pure Africanised bees” which are very fierce. After a while the beekeepers get used to the stings and immune to the venom.

“We sell the honey for G$100 (US$0.50) an ounce. The market is there and sometimes we do not have enough honey to supply the market,” he said. “There is a huge demand for mangrove honey because the black mangroves have a lot of properties that encourage honey production. The black mangroves produce less pollen and more nectar.”

When tourists visit the reserve, they leave not only with jars of honey but also with a feeling that they have contributed positively to the protection of the mangroves, De Jesus said.





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