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Suriname has 93 percent forest cover; we want to keep it that way



Suriname is the most forested country on earth, with 93 percent forest cover. At COP-23 in Bonn, Germany, the Suriname government pledged to work towards keeping 93 percent forest cover, forever. The government indicated they would need the help of the global community to be able to achieve this goal, mainly in the form of financial compensation and capacity-building. Campaign ambassador Christio Wijnhard explains how Forest93 is guiding the way.

I was born in Suriname but moved to the Netherlands when I was ten. I lived there for 24 years but I always felt homesick. When I walked through Rotterdam between the tall buildings, I imagined that they were trees. I felt like a lost Indian in an urban jungle.

I am of mixed descent. My father’s lineage is Indigenous and my mother’s lineage is Afro-Surinamese. They are two ethnic groups in Suriname who have lived close to nature and still do. I have only partially experienced the traditions on both sides. In my youth, culture was already changing under the influence of religion. Traditions were no longer allowed to be passed on and I therefore missed out on learning important parts of my roots. 

However, Suriname kept calling and I decided to return to my country of birth in 2012. I gave away all my belongings and stood at the airport in Paramaribo in June 2013 with only my clothes, books, and laptop to work.

I must say that the country has welcomed and cared for me well. The Natives say that if you take good care of the land, the land will take care of you too. I notice. In every way, Mama Sranan (our version of Pachamama) ensures that I have the resources to do my work. When I was given the opportunity to become a Forest93 Ambassador for Nature five years ago, I grabbed it with both hands.

Forest93 is a national brand, a canopy of various public campaigns and activities grown by Surinamese non-profit the Green Growth Suriname Foundation (GGS) to strengthen Surinamese nationals’ passion for nature and to highlight its value. One of the brand’s key objectives is to build national awareness through storytelling.  

GGS’ work, in line with my values, is to safeguard Suriname’s natural heritage for future generations. With support from international organizations and philanthropists, their essential mission is to make Suriname an international model for green development. 

Why is this so important in Suriname? You see, when a country has something in abundance, its people may start to take it for granted. Under the influence of the colonial past, choices are made in Suriname with the aim of developing the country. We have become a country whose main income is from mining. Therefore, “development”, as we know it, was always accompanied by deforestation. Former colonies in all continents often endure the same fate, because that is what we were taught.

We strive not to let Suriname, as a former colony of the Netherlands — a country which no longer has any primary forests — follow the same path. Our goal is to show that it is possible to develop a country in harmony with its most valuable resource: nature. That is why it is important to get Surinamese people to love the land and forest more and to estimate it correctly instead of measuring it against a Western system that only works to the advantage of the West. 

Christio presents Busi Taki, a series which has been on Surinamese TV for four seasons and is also available on YouTube.

Forest ambassadors

A team of Ambassadors support Forest93 to create this culture and amplify the campaign’s messages about the many benefits of nature to Suriname, our children, and ultimately the world.

We ambassadors also bring awareness to pressing needs like the need for environmental legislation and for creating innovative tools for data collection like citizen science.

Each of the Forest93 campaign ambassadors bring their own expertise and interests to the table, allowing for different branches to grow. We all have our own role within the organization’s strategy. Dean Gorré, an ex-professional football player and former coach of Suriname’s national football team, focuses on raising awareness internationally. Several Surinamese athletes are also Forest93 Ambassadors who increase awareness through visibility on international platforms like World Championships and soon the Olympics in Paris. We also have artists, architects, and grassroots organizers on the team.

As a writer, journalist, and trainer, I focus on strengthening community and information sharing through social media platforms with the web series Busi Taki (Forest Talk).

For the web series Busi Taki Christio Wijnhard interviewed experts. Here he interviews the former Minister of Spatial Planning about addressing plastic waste.

Forest Talk

I consider Busi Taki a four-year course for myself. I’ve learned a lot. I did the research for all of the episodes, with the help of Lindsay Goossens, the secretary of GGS. I have spoken to many experts on many topics… We started the first season with the basic theme “What is a forest?”. Then we looked at the unique elements of nature in Suriname, which has at least one protected nature reserve in each of its districts. 

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In the third season we focused on the past and its impact on the present. I discovered that colonialism and deforestation are inseparable. We made an episode about the “Doctrine of Discovery” –  effectively an international law doctrine authorising explorers to acquire rights on any land they “discovered” – and the Laudato Si Encyclical from the Catholic Church in which the Pope decries ancient colonialist behaviour as well as calling for the special care of Indigenous peoples, critiquing consumerism and irresponsible development, and lamenting global warming. It was a shock to notice that this doctrine still applies and is still alive in the way countries like Suriname and its inhabitants are still viewed by the Western World. I have also noticed that we maintain the same colonial mindset in Suriname today, and that this is likely the case in other ex-colonies. I want to change that. 

In the fourth season we focused on all-encompassing nature. I made episodes about how nature contributes to fashion, but also the negative impact of fashion on the forest. 

Community projects

GGS also partners with Indigenous communities, focusing on strengthening communities’ capacity to lead development projects. For example, in collaboration with the Tareno tribe, who live in an area of approximately 7 million hectares in the south of Suriname, GGS developed a project to renovate the waiting room of a local traditional medicine clinic and restore several traditional community buildings across a set of communities, like local prayer houses and community centres (paiman). 

Upon request from the village captains of Curuni and Amatopo, these two Tareno villages which had never received state education finally had school buildings put up as part of a joint project between the tribe and GGS, with support from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. They were built using materials found around the village. The government now provides school material and teachers to the two villages.

Additionally, general capacity building projects aim to support the tribe: in their strategies for protecting their territory against poachers, illegal gold mining, and illegal deforestation; with collecting data on water, soil, and air quality; and analyzing missions to find new livelihood models e.g. via non-timber forest products such as fruits, nuts, oils and crafts. 

For the Busi Taki episode The Werephai Caves, Christio and his team visited this cave in Kwamalasamutu, a Tareno village in the South Of Suriname. These caves were (re)discovered by a Tareno shaman. According to him, Werephai, a lady pictured as a petroglyph in the caves, came to him in a dream sharing the existence and location of the cave. It contians hundreds of petroglyphs estimated to be 2,000-5,000 years old.

Due to climate change, the seasons of rain and drought no longer behave the same in many parts of Suriname. In addition, rain falls in shorter, more intense periods, which can cause agricultural plots to flood and crops to be destroyed.

Many traditional communities are also subject to influences from the city. New foods such as rice and sugar are introduced into the communities, especially during political campaigns, but also when famine threatens and they are provided with these products as aid. These products are mainly carbohydrate-rich and they do not actually fit into the Indigenous diet. On top of cultural issues, this has brought welfare diseases into the communities like diabetes and high blood pressure.

In response, we will be looking at projects to safeguard food security in the communities. We will help coordinate the set-up of a local bakery and the introduction of vegetable farming which will ensure school children in the south of Suriname get lunch and a balanced diet, thus fighting famine. 

Via Busi Taki Christio Wijnhard re-connected with his roots. Born from Indigenous and Creole parents he grew up in between two cultures who were both impacted by colonial measures such as baptisms which resulted in loss of language, culture, and traditions. This photo was taking during a visit to the Indigenous village of Galibi for an episode of Busi Taki.

Our work is not yet done

When we started Busi Taki five years ago, very few people knew what Forest93 was and what it stood for. Now almost anyone can tell you that we are a country with 93 percent forest cover. Even government officials have now started to use this fact in their speeches as a point of value for the country. That doesn’t mean our work is done.

Suriname is on the brink of opening up a large-scale offshore oil and gas industry, as it shares the third-largest newly found oil basin with neighbouring Guyana. The country is also gripped by corruption and consumerism. These two ills come together in a recent threat to Suriname’s forest: the sale of land to Mennonites wanting to settle in Suriname to carry out large-scale agriculture. Deforestation is a prerequisite.

That is why we must continue to work on raising awareness that development does not necessarily mean deforestation. Personally, I want to focus on young people as they will be the policymakers and voters of the future. They will have to make better choices that will benefit themselves, the country, and our beautiful forests.

Christio Wijnhard is a Forest93 Ambassador and the presenter of Busi Taki. He is currently working on Season 5: The Green Agenda, which will address nature, climate change, and what political parties have planned. In the lead-up to Suriname’s general elections in 2025, Christio hopes that this season of Busi Taki will increase awareness around the green agenda of different political parties.

You can donate to Forest93 here.