Participants from developing nations at the Capacity Building on Reforestation, Protection and Recreation of Forest conference in Seoul, Korea
By Anne Kaari
In recent decades, forest restoration has emerged as a key issue in the field of environment. Many ongoing discussions including the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration, the Bonn Challenge, and the Paris Agreement 2015, all prioritize reforestation as an imperative to tackling climate change. Due to population increase, the pressure on existing forest resources has been enormous and in many developing countries worldwide, the forest cover has been decreasing. This has not been the case in South Korea.
In the 1900s, degradation of forests in South Korea had exacerbated due to over exploitation during the Japanese occupation and the Korean war, coupled with a drastic increase in population. By the 1960s, the condition had gotten so severe leading to natural disasters such as floods and droughts that threatened food resources and livelihoods and sunk the country deeper into poverty. Despite the challenges, in 1962 the Korean government began a massive tree planting effort through the newly instituted National Reforestation Programme.
The most important driver of this programme was President Park Chung Hee who had a personal commitment towards developing the economy and alleviating poverty with forest rehabilitation at the core of his economic agenda.
The National Reforestation Programme was implemented over 25 years (1962 - 1987) following the enactment of the forest law in 1961 and setting the forestry policy goals as: protection and nurturing of forests; enhancement of forest resources; preservation of land; and, development of the national economy in line with the goals of the Forest Act 1961. To accomplish these goals, special focus was given to the establishment of plantations to address issues of erosion control and fuel demand in rural areas. In 1962, the government enacted the Erosion Control Work Act, and pursued erosion control work. The government secured seedlings for tree-planting through multiple sources, including government-owned nurseries, forest co-ops, and seedlings grown locally at village levels. Although the National Reforestation programme was initiated by the Korean Government, nurseries in about 300 villages were actively facilitated to provide economic opportunities to the locals. This encouraged community participation and trees cultivated in the nurseries were fast-growing trees for fuelwood, fruit trees for food resources, and long-term trees for high quality timber. The government subsequently banned bringing fuelwood into the densely populated capital area to encourage the transition from fuelwood to coal.
During the second 5-year economic development plan, the Korea Forest Service was established and the basic direction of the forest policy changed from 'protection-centered' to 'promotion of forest industries 'but reforestation efforts continued. Notably, according to the forest leasing and profit-sharing system outlined in the Forest Law, profits from fuelwood plantations were to be divided between forest land owners (20%) and forest communities social network (80%). 'Tree-planting system by all people' was adopted as the core tool for implementation of the reforestation plan. It became a requirement for not only direct stakeholders such as the Government and forest owners, but also for people of every class in villages, workplaces, families, organizations, institutions, militaries, and schools to participate in achieving the national reforestation goal. For example, each village was encouraged to the area within 2km radius from the village center; organizations and institutions were responsible for reforesting designated areas; forest corporations and land owners mandatorily planted trees; and corporations which did not own forests were encouraged to participate voluntarily in the nation-wide tree planting movement. The movement reflected the will of government to reforest the land in a short time period by mobilizing maximum central and regional administrative power and the police force. Despite the overall success of the First Plan, there was substantial criticism of 'quantity over quality' and neglecting forestry-related technologies and forest owner-centered management strategies.
The second national forest plan was initiated from 1977 focused more on the quality of reforestation than the quantity. To cultivate forest resource bases, 80 large scale commercial forest complexes were created. Government researchers also embarked on conducting informal soil surveys on the target areas for these complexes, analyzing environmental and soil data to choose site-specific species to plant. The government changed tact and promoted civilian-led projects and took a supportive role. The areas planted were fertilized after three years with a new aerial fertilization technologies and equipment. Although politically this era was full of social unrest, the financial and administrative power of President Park's government supported the improvement of forest resources, and established a foundation for managing them. Central and regional administrative power and police force were mobilized combined with strong-willed leadership assisted the Republic of South Korea to reach its goal of afforesting 1 million ha within the first phase.
By the time the plan reached phase two, nationwide tree planting was well established due to the persistent promotion of reforestation by the government. During the National tree -planting month (March 21st to April 20th), people willingly participated and learned about the importance of tree planting and tending. Specific tasks were assigned to different government agencies and villages to facilitate the planting activities. Additionally, the first Saturday of every November was declared as the National Tree-tending Day. On this day, the entire nation participated in tending activities with a purpose to raise awareness on the importance of tree growing. During the second phase, the Government also took a different approach towards engaging its citizenry. Rather than the previous strict rules, regulations and mandates, they now promoted voluntary participation of the people, appealing to their sense of patriotism.
By the early 1970s, the long-lasting forest resource loss had finally turned around and the number of forest resources was rising. During the 14 years of forest rehabilitation plans, the volume of unstocked land was reduced by 77%, while the volume of forest and growing stock were both increased by 9% and 270% respectively. In the longer period between 1952 and 2007, unstocked land dropped from 3.32 million ha to 0.17 million ha, and the growing stock grew to 6.2 million ha from 3.4 million ha. The volume of stocked land has been maintained around 62% since the 1990s after hitting its lowest point of 35% back in the early 1950s. All the efforts led to changes in biodiversity, soil conservation and improved freshwater resources. Recently, the Korea Forest Service introduced the ‘forest welfare services' programme, which targets many different age groups, allowing people to enjoy recreational forests.
Recreation facilities within a Forest Healing Centre in Korea. The Theraputic Forests are intended to improve the health and well-being of those who visit them, through various activities.