As the new concept of forest welfare is emerging, the Korea Forest Service (KFS) is ironing out various programs for the development of leisure culture and welfare services for the public, while setting up diverse infrastructure for them. As part of these efforts, the KFS has established and opened forest information databases to the public, providing various forest welfare services.
Externally, the KFS has tried to boost investment in developing overseas forest resources while sharing Korea’s afforestation experience and know-how with developing nations for their antidesertification and afforestation projects.
Business Korea sat down with KFS Minister Shin Won-sop to hear about his efforts to increase public happiness through forests, and his endeavor to expand cooperation with countries with rich natural forest resources. The following are excerpts from the interview with Minister Shin.
What is the background and purpose of the Have Your Own Tree Campaign?
The campaign was launched to celebrate the 69th Arbor Day and capitalize on it to promote the importance of forests, and encourage more people to plant trees.
This year, more than 1.2 million trees were planted in 170 places around the nation during the campaign period, under the slogan of “Planting Trees, Creating the Future of Korea.” Also, approximately 400,000 more trees were planted, mainly in urban areas, on and around this year’s Arbor Day.
The 130 or so Tree Markets contributed greatly to the success as well. Tree Market information is available on the official website of the Korea Forest Service.
The new concept of forest welfare is emerging these days as a new form of social demand. Please explain more about this idea.
Nowadays, social conditions are changing rapidly and people are getting more and more interested in the healthcare, cultural, and healing elements that the forest can provide. Specifically, the various effects of just walking in a forest, such as stress relief and the relaxation of the body and the mind, are attracting urban dwellers to nearby forests.
You can enjoy a variety of healing effects, both physiological and psychological, by just visiting a forest. Focusing on this aspect, an increasing number of organizations are making use of the natural resource in diverse fields like preventive medicine, personality education, and the treatment of chronic diseases.
At the same time, the number of those returning to farming is on the rise, too. A laid-back third-age life in a rural or mountain village is increasingly popular with retirees.
What does your ministry do for a better utilization of arboretums and botanical gardens?
We are trying to provide better services for the general public by enhancing the educational and sightseeing functions of the resources.
A total of approximately 12,333,000 people visited the 44 arboretums and botanical gardens nationwide in the single year of 2013, which is equivalent to 25 percent of the Korean population. The number increased to 27.7 percent when compared to the 9,655,000 recorded in 2009.
The Korea Forest Service has supplied a series of educational, hands-on programs in the facilities so as to satisfy cultural needs and help visitors raise their living standards and make better use of their leisure time. These programs will be more specialized and systematized over time.
Additionally, the Korea Forest Service will set up diverse infrastructure so that these facilities can assume greater social, public, and cultural roles, and act as a leading platform in the education, culture, and tourism sectors.
What is the definition of Forest Administration 3.0 and its action plans?
Forest Administration 3.0 can be defined as an effort for the national forest administration system to revolve around people, with the core values of government – that is, opening, sharing, communication, and cooperation – incorporated into the entire process of the forest administration.
In this framework, we have opened our forest information databases to the public, while working together with other ministries and organizations to back up forestry employees and providing various forest welfare services.
This year marks the second anniversary of Forest Administration 3.0. We will bring out more tangible results this year so that the general public can feel and experience the new way of forest administration. Specific measures to this end include life-cycle tailored forest welfare services and the customized training of future forestry employees for job placement. We are planning to select 10 major tasks in view of the public demand.
Plus, the private-public cooperation will be enhanced throughout the entire course of forest administration so we can better communicate with the people. Online policy discussion opportunities are planned to be expanded for Web users’ greater participation and offline channels for intercommunication, such as the Forest Patrol, will be diversified.
The Korea Forest Service is in collaboration with many international organizations and governments. Please give some typical examples.
Korean companies are striving hard to develop overseas forest resources so as to procure lumber resources in an economical and stable way. In detail, 31 companies entered 13 countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Uruguay between 1993 and late last year to create forests as wide as 314,000 hectacres. Such afforestation efforts are to provide against increasing demands for lumber resources like pulpwood and wood pellets by means of supply source diversification.
Another trend is the diversification of investment destinations from Southeast Asia to the Oceania region and Latin America, and the diversification of investment purposes to cover biomass, new and renewable energy, and carbon emission rights.
In order to boost the investment, we have shored up our cooperation with countries rich with natural resources while injecting more policy funds than before. In addition, our staff members have been sent to those countries for the support of investment projects. 103 such internees have been dispatched between 2009 and 2013, and the number is scheduled to be 33 for this year.
At the same time, we are trying to make the most of the Korea-China FTA to open up the Chinese forest market. We are well aware of many people’s concerns that the free trade deal is likely to affect the forest industry of Korea. We are doing our utmost to protect major forest products as highly-sensitive items. Forest product export complexes will be built in China, targeting local highincome earners, and more export channels will be prepared to minimize the potential negative impact of the KoreaChina FTA.
In the meantime, we are sharing our afforestation experience and know-how with developing nations. We are taking an important role in dealing with the desertification of Africa and moving ahead with anti-desertification and afforestation projects in China and Mongolia to provide fundamental solutions to the ever-growing problem. It is in this vein that the Korean government took the lead in launching the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization, whose goal is to cope with forest-related problems in Asia.
What are your organization’s key projects for this year?
We will continue responding proactively to the Korea-China FTA negotiations, which are sure to have a huge impact on the forest industry of Korea, and seek ways for enhancing the competitiveness of the sector.
At present, the second round of negotiations is underway surrounding some specific items and talks are expected to be wrapped up by May. We are mobilizing our resources so that forest and wood products can be included in the category of highly-sensitive items.
Also, we will try to make up for the losses on the part of forest farmers, which could be incurred by the FTA, while putting efforts to turn the crisis into an opportunity by different strategies for higher added value creation.
Further, we are going to put forth a better job creation and forest welfare policy so the people can feel greater affinity with the forest. Relevant laws are to be enacted for systematic creation of forest jobs, and 250 million won [US$241,250] is invested in business consulting for social enterprises in the field of forestry. 50 million won [US$48,250] has been earmarked as subsidies for such social enterprises, too.
We are currently in the second year of the Comprehensive Forest Welfare Plan 2013-2017. We will enhance both the qualitative and quantitative sides of the national plan, along with our lifecycle forest welfare policy, so that such endeavors can be better accepted and sympathized with by the general public.