Community Measurement, Reporting and Verification by the Wai Wai of Kanashen, Guyana

Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, Region 9
Wai Wai participatory monitoring project
A Wai Wai village in Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area. Photo: Vitus Antone (WWF-Guyana)
Key Lessons 
  • Although community members had very limited prior experience with using data collection methods and equipment, they were able to grasp and operationalise these techniques quickly and effectively.
  • Monitors from the North Rupununi community-based monitoring project transferred their knowledge by training the new monitors in this project. This shows the potential for cross-community training, which will eventually reduce the dependence on external input.
  • The community themselves developed the monitoring framework, and much of the information produced from this was seen as being of direct use to community management.
  • Translation obstacles can make using technology such as the GPS and survey forms more difficult: full translation to indigenous language is essential.

Indigenous people are among the largest titled landowners in Guyana. Establishing a Community-based Measurement, Reporting and Verification (CMRV) system with them is therefore a key step forward for the national REDD+ programme. This project aimed to build on the successes of establishing CMRV in the North Rupununi, Guyana, by extending and developing the model. This involved engaging with the indigenous Wai Wai community, and training a small contingent of six locals in the techniques necessary to become active forest monitors. The Wai Wai are a small indigenous group of around 300 people, whose titled land represents 2.9% of Guyana’s total land area. Their traditional village council and Toshao (village leader) are key representatives for them, including during this project.

Guyana is identified as a high forest low deforestation (HFLD) country, meaning it represents a wealth of some of the most important natural rainforest ecosystems globally, while not presently having high rates of deforestation. However, expansion in both legal and illegal extractive mining as well as commercial timber activities are exerting increasing pressures on these deforestation rates. This potential vulnerability of the Guyanese rainforest makes it an important site for the early development of REDD+ activities, and Guyana aims to be ahead of the curve in terms of REDD+ preparations.

The CMRV system developed in this project holds multiple benefits for those involved in the process. The data will enable the Wai Wai community to participate in REDD+ activities, while the initiative created employment and skills for community members. The outcomes of this project also supported the process of securing protected land area status for the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area for the Wai Wai. Furthermore, the project and experiences here and in North Rupununi can act as models for the future expansion of community monitoring projects across Guyana’s indigenous groups. 

WWF-Guianas, in partnership with the Guyana Forestry Commission and North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), facilitated this process, conducting training sessions throughout 2014-15 for six Wai-Wai community members. The project was financed through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).

International Forest Agenda/s 
Monitoring Theme/s 
Natural resources

A list of resources that were considered critical for their use value, subsistence, tourism or culture was produced through discussions with community leaders. The list consisted of 18 resources including specific animals, timber and non-timber forest products. Information on these resources was then recorded through opportunistic sampling with handheld devices.

Carbon biomass

Carbon stocks were monitored using measurements of vegetation cover density, diameter at breast height, soil density, slope and height of forest, as well as records of forest cover change and tree species. 

Wellbeing & social issues

Wellbeing assessments were created by drawing on questionnaires developed by the North Rupununi District Development Board and previous livelihood assessments conducted in the region.

Indicators included health and sanitation, access to natural resources, nutrition and health, population, income, physical assets, education

Deforestation drivers

The number of farms per person and the total farmed area per person was recorded.

Policy context

A bilateral Norway-Guyana agreement, signed in 2009, sets out to provide Guyana with up to $250 million over five years, if Guyana successfully implements its Low Carbon Development Strategy. This includes limiting carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, through the development of a national REDD+ programme. A national-level forest Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system is one integral aspect of this REDD+ programme. MRV will track changes in forest carbon stocks to help determine the level of payments.

Given that 14% of Guyana’s titled land is owned by indigenous communities, the participation of different stakeholders, especially indigenous forest communities, is a critical component underpinning the bilateral agreement. The national MRV system has therefore progressed to include community-based MRV (CMRV), which aims to be both equitable and efficient.

This project in Kanashen extends the emerging CMRV model, in order to bring the national REDD+ programme into local communities. As well as contributing to Guyana’s REDD+ programme and Low Carbon Development Strategy, the project also helps make the the status of the Wai Wai's land more secure: the area is a Community-Owned Conservation Area (a land category in Guyana's new protected area system) covering 625 000 hectares, nearly 3% of the country, in the far south of Guyana, bordering Brazil. The monitoring carried out by the project has fulfilled some of the requirements of the area's management plan.

This local engagement is in line with the international Cancun Agreements from 2010, which stress the importance of, “the full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities” (Decision 12/Cp.17) within REDD+.

Community participation

In order to effectively ground the CMRV experience within the community, training was almost entirely provided on site in the Wai Wai community. This raised the awareness of the whole community, increasing their understanding and of the project processes, and ensuring that the project was accepted locally.

The training itself took place over four two-week periods of extensive instruction and guidance, spread across 11 months. Training was delivered both in classrooms and in the field, so that the community monitors could implement the techniques with the support of the training team. In between these training periods there was time to practice and apply the new skills.

Some of the topics covered included:

  • The right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)
  • Climate change, carbon storage and their relevance to the people of Kanashen
  • Indicators and measurement of natural resources, biomass and wellbeing
  • REDD+ and CMRV
  • The use of technology for quantitative data collection
  • Interviewing techniques for qualitative data collection
  • Basic computing skills
  • Communication techniques such as public speaking, conflict resolution and presentation formats  

Trainees were initially supervised when they collected data, to ensure accuracy and facilitate troubleshooting, though ultimately they became fully responsible for all aspects of data collection and compilation. Not only can this be seen as an empowering process, but pragmatically it is far easier and more efficient for those with a local understanding of their environment to access remote areas and identify key sites for monitoring.

Community prioritisation exercises identified the types of data that would be valuable and useful to collect; this was built into a monitoring framework. This process was a pivotal aspect of the CMRV, as basing the monitoring framework on local values and priorities increased local engagement. The information provided by the CMRV can then be used by the village leadership to support management of their own community lands, as well as for possible revenue earnings through the REDD+ system.

As Guyana prepares to extend CMRV more widely, emphasis is being placed on local sustainability and ensuring a degree of 'internal momentum', to enable external training organisations to step away from the process, and put forest communities in the driving seat. This helps communities take more ownership of the monitoring. As an early example, community monitors from the North Rupununi project shared their experiences through the training process. This cross-community participation should be fostered, as it will be support the expansion and sustainability of CMRV projects in the future.  

Monitoring methodology

Critical natural resources

Discussions with community leaders produced a thorough list of resources for monitoring. These 18 species included animals and timber and non-timber forest products, all of which were seen as critically important to the community in various ways; as such there was local interest in gathering data on these.

Data was collected opportunistically using handheld devices as monitores went about their everyday activites.

Forest change and carbon stocks

It was important to use standardised operating procedures to monitor forest change and carbon stocks, so these were drawn from the national MRV system. This would potentially enable local data on forest change over time and forest carbon to be fed into a national MRV system, to generate reliable national level data for analysis.

Monitors learned various sampling methods in order to establish levels of soil carbon, soil bulk densities and to assess biomass. These included measurements of live trees, standing dead wood, lying dead wood, and plots of soil and litter. 

Community wellbeing

Monitors based their community wellbeing assessments on existing wellbeing questionnaires developed by the NRDDB, along with guidance from previous livelihood assessments. They then conducted the surveys, using smartphones to collect data on the health and social wellbeing of the community.

Digital technology

Android smartphones were used to document the majority of survey data for forest monitoring, for wellbeing as well as natural resource measurements. These were operated with Google’s Open Data Kit (ODK) software, which was found to be a reasonably intuitive application, with the advantage that it does not require mobile or internet connection to operate.

In addition, Garmin’s Etrex GPS trackers were used to geo-locate monitoring plots.

In order to collate and report some of the findings from the monitoring there was also use of some basic computer programmes from Microsoft Office. This will make community monitors less reliant on external support to develop reports and will enable them to present the data collected themselves, in turn allowing the village management team to actively take more precise decisions based on the output. Laptops also provided central servers to collate data.

Achievements and challenges

The project in the Kanashen region was successful in implementing a training programme, sharing learning from an earlier pilot CMRV project. This meant that trainers were able to interact with monitors more effectively, with a shared cultural understanding, which was seen to improve the uptake and understanding of new skills. This demonstrates the potential for local capacity building and suggests that it should be possible to develop a sustainable CMRV model that is not heavily dependent on external support.

This project also successfully highlighted the multiple benefits that can be outcomes of CMRV. Not only was the training and expertise gained through the project supportive of REDD+ preparations, but this was also a key component of the process of implementing the management plan of the protected area inhabited by the Wai Wai, namely the Kanashen Community-Owned Conseration Area.

Community members gained a number of highly useful basic IT, reporting and communication skills. As well as technical knowledge, the project process provided a more holistic understanding of why monitoring activities are relevant. The project aimed to achieve a greater depth of informed participation, by sharing a range of information on key concepts and processes, about climate change, ecosystem services, Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

There were also a number of challenges identified in the process of this project, which may be addressed in future community monitoring. The low existing levels of technical knowledge did mean that training was time consuming and perhaps also suggests that technologies should be thoroughly evaluated to check how intuitive they are. The selection of technology is also particularly important when considering local services, as internet service and battery power were challenges in this location. Such issues, and the importance of getting the most appropriate technology, are magnified by the community being so remote and therefore being unlikely to receive frequent or direct supervision once the training period is complete.

Language and cultural understandings of the environment were also important challenges. Translation into the indigenous Wai Wai language was seen as essential for much of the material, such as interviews, surveys, species names and subsequently reporting data back to communities.

Challenges also persist in achieving an effective transfer of information from the community level to inform national level MRV. This should be dealt with broadly across the many actors involved in national and community monitoring models.

To conclude, such a remote and vast area posed many challenges in developing and applying an effective monitoring programme but, through constant emphasis on the importance of local understanding, awareness and knowledge, the project successfully demonstrated the value of community participation in forest monitoring.