How Introducing a Tree Monitoring System Improved Forest Rehabilitation in Korea (1973–1987)

Development Challenge

The Republic of Korea has been struggling with the issue of deforestation since the late 19th Century. With an increasing demand for timber and fuel, deforestation worsened to a dangerous level that led to frequent flooding and drought.  This case study examines the evolution and adaptation of reforestation policy in the Republic of Korea from 1948 to 1987, and presents how the introduction of tree monitoring systems both improved the implementation of reforestation projects and got rid of favoritism in government works.

Delivery Challenges and How Practitioners Responded

One of the early delivery challenges that the South Korean government was facing is a bureaucratic structure that presented a conflict of interest. Before the South Korean government initiated the First 10-Year Forest Rehabilitation Plan (1973-1982), the forest reclamation projects had been supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The Ministry of Agriculture emphasized the urgent issue of increasing food production, and attempted to solve food shortages by clearing the mountains, which conflicted with the goals of the Forest Service. Moreover, the Forest Service was not in a position to directly oversee the forest reclamation projects, making it difficult for the Forest Service to mobilize workers necessary for the reforestation and engage the response of the public. In response, the South Korean government transferred the Forest Service to the Ministry of Home Affairs, allowing it to lead forest reclamation projects.

Another delivery challenge was the lack of monitoring system, which made it challenging to track the survival rate of seedlings in the plantations and nurseries. Aimed at establishing a transparent system, the Minister of Home Affairs set up a tree monitoring system that entailed exchanges of tree monitoring inspectors among different counties or provinces as well as monitoring inspection that  was conducted twice in a series by two different teams. In order to make sure that the selected inspectors were equipped to carry out inspections, the inspectors were given training in monitoring indicators, such as methods of measuring tree growth and how to properly evaluate plantation management.

Lessons from the Case Study

The tree monitoring system was considered a success, leading to an increase in tree survival rates from below 80 percent in the 1960s and early 1970s to over 94 percent in the 1980s. One of the lessons learned from implementing the system was giving proper incentives to forest officers. The forest officers who performed well, received promotions and presidential citations for their hard work. This in turned promoted a sense of responsibility on the part of forest officers for their duty of proper planning and tending seedlings. Villages were also incentivized to participate through additional funds or other income-generating projects.