Free, Prior and Informed Consent Process begins in the North Rupununi for COBRA 2.0

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The team from the North Rupununi District Development Board began visiting the communities of the North Rupununi District to introduce a new project that is of much interest to the communities. Dubbed COBRA 2.0, the project entitled “Integrating traditional knowledge into national policy and practice in Guyana,” began implementation on 1st July 2017. The project aims to address the goal of Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 which looks at developing a national action plan and process that would allow for the recognition and integration of traditional knowledge into biodiversity conservation and resource management while helping to reduce poverty in locations that are heavily dependent on natural resources.

The three community researchers, Ryan Benjamin, Rebecca Xavier and Bernie Robertson, visited the communities from the 31st July to 14th August 2017. The team met with villagers and village councils to explain more about the project. This was a follow-up to written information that had been sent to the communities previously indicating an interest of working with the communities and requesting permission through a letter of consent for the project to occur within their village. The team created two formats for communicating the ideas behind the project; a photostory and a video which outlined the main objectives and desires of the project.

Traditional knowledge and the traditional way of life is a very important issue for communities. It is a part of their culture that they are very aware they are in danger of losing, especially the historical context for many of the activities they carry out. With this awareness, they see this project as a timely point of intervention that may help them save valuable knowledge, but also create teaching tools that act as alternatives given the changes occurring within their society that affect the way they live.

The areas of concerns voiced were many but the message was the same; if action is not taken we would lose the knowledge.  Many have noted the rapid change in their traditional way of life. One resident said “years ago I never thought that we would see these kinds of development happening in my community; everyone lived happily; no one ever had so many kinds’ of sicknesses, we use to know our traditional medicines and practiced our traditional way of life. Now we hardly know these things.”

Toshao of Yupukari said he has a strong belief that teaching young people the traditional knowledge in some form can be a help for their future survival. He said their knowledge of managing the natural resources was passed on from their fore parents, which has kept the forest standing, but most of it has been lost although there are a few of which we are keeping alive.

In Rewa, it was noted that people were not prepared for the changes that would come when they talked about development and wanting better for their communities. Now many of the people are involved in the tourism venture and have very little time for their traditional way of life. In the home there is little local drinks but now we have ‘sugar’. “More sugar than we can sell,” it was said. This was referencing the fact that with the change in diet, more people were developing diabetes.

Many villagers are very concerned about where the loss of their traditional way of life and knowledge will lead them. They are looking forward to working along with this project in the hopes that sharing and documenting their traditional way of life would be one way of saving it.

This hope, however, comes with concerns. There is worry about how that knowledge would be used in the project and how it would be safe guarded. This is where the Free, Prior and Informed Consent Process (FPIC) process comes in. It is not a one-off discussion about permission to do research. It’s a constant asking of questions for the researchers and for community members about the information to be collected and released. Does this point of view reflect and represent the view of the whole community? Do you want this information released? The process is participatory and requires input from as many persons. The process of consent includes accepting communities’ right to withdraw permission or saying no to certain elements.

In the North Rupununi, the communities developed a data sharing protocol through the Community Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (CMRV) project implemented by the NRDDB. This protocol used a stoplight process to determine the levels at which data could be shared. The project will be adopting this protocol to use with communities that so they can determine what is released and to whom.

Follow Jay Mistry:

Professor of Geography - Royal Holloway University of London

Jay has more than 22 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for natural resource management with local communities. Her particular interests include supporting local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, local environmental governance, action research using participatory video and capacity building for natural resource management.