According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) [1
], the total global forest area decreased by 129 million hectares (ha) (3.1%) in the period 1990–2015. The annual rate of decline was approximately 0.13%, but there were significant regional variations. High-income countries (This was determined based on the World Bank’s income categories as of July 2013.)(HICs) have gained forest over the last 25 years, while low-income countries (LICs) have lost their forests over the same period [1
]. Though there was a decline in net forest loss from 2.9 million ha between 1990 and 2000 to 2.4 million ha between 2010 and 2015 in LICs, the significant gap between HICs and LICs has hardly narrowed [1
]. In most LICs, deforestation has been mainly caused by the conversion of forest land to agriculture and livestock areas [1
]. These land-use changes have resulted in serious environmental problems such as habitat loss, the decreased availability of clean water, and the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and have consequently affected the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, whose livelihoods depend on forests [3
While ambitious climate goals have been presented by countries in the context of the 2020 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, many challenges remain. Forest landscape restoration (FLR) has been suggested as a promising nature-based solution to deforestation and degradation. This approach emphasizes regaining the ecological, social, climatic, and economic benefits of forests by restoring deforested or degraded lands through sustainable land use practices [3
]. To date, over 170 million hectares have been pledged for restoration by 58 national and subnational governments and other entities under the Bonn Challenge, supported by the FLR approach.
However, in the 1980s, when FLR and other similar concepts and methodologies were absent, state-led large-scale restoration projects in Asian LICs were already successful. While most LICs were experiencing rapid forest losses in the 1980s, only three countries—South Korea, Vietnam, and China—achieved successes in combating deforestation. Asia was the only region in the world whose forest cover increased in 2010, when China finished its first restoration program.
Since the best practice cases in South Korea, Vietnam, and China achieved what was regarded as almost impossible, many scholars have shown an increasing interest in their logical analysis and political implications. The establishment of relevant laws and policies as well as the commitment of local communities were the common factors that led to the success of these three forest restoration cases. Additionally, these three countries received international attention for developing incentive-based payment mechanisms for environmental policy programs, the potential applicability of which had only been discussed within academic bodies at the time.
Institutions are defined as “enduring regularities of human action in situations are structured by rules, norms, shared strategies, and the physical world. The rules, norms, and shared strategies are constituted and reconstituted by human interaction in frequently occurring or repetitive situations” [5
]. Institutions promote positive outcomes by helping actors address the “social dilemma” that arises when individual rational behaviors are aggregated to produce irrational social outcomes [6
Accordingly, institutional analysis is particularly important at the pre-project or planning stage of research activities or projects, which allows decision making regarding the appropriate institutional setting for the proposed activity [7
]. In the forest management context, institutions include all kinds of formal and informal prescriptions—legal documents issued by the central government on forest management, the informal rules allowing state administration at lower levels and enabling relative freedom in interpreting relevant documents, and the collective rules orally shared within a community, for example [8
In this research, three national-level forest restoration cases from South Korea, Vietnam, and China were selected for analysis. Conducting a comparison through relevant framework, the objectives of the study were as follows: First, we identified similarities and differences in institutional settings that had achieved successful restoration. Second, we examined how the payment mechanisms for forest restoration were introduced in the three countries. The result of this research provides practical implications and contributes to the body of research on comparisons of restoration cases from Asian countries, which have only rarely been investigated.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Case Selection
Three cases were selected for comparison: (1) The First Ten-Year Forest Rehabilitation (TYFR) plan in South Korea, (2) the Five Million Hectare Reforestation Program (5MHRP) in Vietnam, and (3) the Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP) in China. For the analysis, geographical scopes were set to cover the countries of interest. The cases spanned from the period when the state-led restoration programs began to when they first ended after achieving success. Two different sources of empirical data were employed: (1) Official documentary sources such as laws, agency policy statements, and legislative and professional society debates; and (2) archival and dependable secondary sources published by international organizations and scientific journals.
These cases, along with incentive-based programs and logging bans aimed at reducing the deforestation of native forests while increasing forest cover, played an important role in forest restoration. The three cases shared many features. First, they involved government-led restoration programs; second, they were characterized by strong state authority during their implementation; and third, they shared the same complementary objectives of poverty reduction and rural development. Though South Korea’s reforestation policy did not fit the exact definition of a payment mechanism, after reviewing the main forest restoration efforts that were implemented with various incentive programs (including both cash and in-kind payments), it was regarded as a payment scheme in this research.
Before Japanese colonization, South Korea was a densely forested country (per ha 100 m3
). However, during colonization and the Korean War, forests were destroyed by massive and excessive cutting for fuel and exportation purposes, resulting in a decreasing the per ha volume to about 10 m3
]. The Korean government established state-led forest restoration projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The government implemented major forestry initiatives which were started by the president and were met with public support [10
]. In 1973, the TYFR plan was established. With it, 207,000 hectares of plantation land were created, reaching a total of 643,000 hectares in 1977 [11
]. The success of these projects received global attention. Lester Brown, a famous environmentalist, noted in his book that “South Korea is a reforestation model for the world. We can reforest the earth [9
Vietnam is a mountainous country with a monsoonal climate; its economy is critically dependent on the watershed services provided by forests, especially in rural uplands where agriculture and hydropower are important sectors [12
]. Thus, the value of forests had been strongly promoted by the central government through large-scale projects to reforest millions of hectares of land [13
]. The 5MHRP was implemented by the central government, international agencies, and non-governmental organizations based in Vietnam. It aimed to provide incentives and rewards to upland farmers to encourage them to afforest and reforest bare hills, mountains, and other areas [14
]. The plan increased the nation-wide forest coverage to 39.5% of the total land cover in 2010, up from 32% in 1998 [15
]. Additionally, the forest sector was actively involved in employment creation and livelihood improvement for nearly 25% of the country’s population [16
The Chinese government implemented a logging ban in 1998, sharply curtailing commercial harvesting in the western and northern areas of the country [17
]. The SLCP, also known as “Grain for Green” or “Conversion of Cropland to Forests and Grassland,” was initiated by the central government in 1999 after a devastating flood in the Yangtze River Basin the previous year. It was the largest land retirement and reforestation program in the developing world, with a total budget of almost CNY 430 billion (USD 45 billion), and it aimed at converting 14.67 million hectares of cropland to forests (4.4 million of which were on land with slopes greater than 25 degrees) by 2010. The program had an additional goal of afforesting a roughly equal area of wasteland by 2010 [18
]. The whole project was fully implemented in 2002, after the announcement of advice regarding further improving policy measures for the SLCP as well as regulations for the program. The central government was the chief funding agency for the project, paying local farmers to stop farming and plant trees instead. It compensated them with (1) an annual in-kind subsidy of grain; (2) a cash subsidy; and (3) free saplings provided to the farmer at the beginning of the planting period [19
]. Consequently, China gained almost 14 million hectares of forest cover, revealing that about 37% of its forest lands were planted [20
2.2. Analytical Framework
In this study, inputs included the contextual factors (attributes of the community, physical conditions, and rules-in-use) covering all aspects of the social, cultural, institutional, and physical environment that set the context within which an action situation was found [21
]. These created effects on the action arena consisted of actor and action situations that included information availability and cost/benefits to actions and outcomes. The interaction of the two big factors resulted in outcomes of policy implementation.
The constitutional level refers to the processes through which collective choice procedures are defined, including legitimizing and creating all relevant entities involved in collective or operational choice processes [21
]. Based on this basic framework, this study focused on the implementation of payment mechanisms in each country at the constitutional level. Constitutional choice outcomes affect collective decision-making, which, in-turn, affects activities at an operational-level.
Relevant variables were selected based on previous research. First, the trend of deforestation was regarded as a physical condition. Second, regulatory frameworks were defined as rules-in-use. Third, the project objective and the basis for participation were used as defining attributes of a community. Fourth, an actor was divided into four levels, ranging from international to local. Finally, a payment mechanism was regarded as an action arena in this study. A payment mechanism could also be divided into three different arenas according to its general characteristics, as well as its payment and design features (Table 1
In this study, a qualitative and interpretative approach was applied based on textual methods—mainly, documentary review and analysis. Relevant public documents were reviewed—both international and national policy documents, guidelines, standards, instruments, acts, governmental reports, and statistical data. Secondary materials, mainly in form of books and peer reviewed journal papers, were further explored for in-depth analysis
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Forest restoration played significant roles under the diversified socioeconomic and natural conditions experienced in many Asian countries. Particularly in this century, South Korea, Vietnam, and China encountered dramatic forest land use changes driven by different socioeconomic and political developments, from deforestation and forest degradation to reforestation and ecological restoration. These countries have also received global attention for their institutional arrangements and incentive-based reforestation policies. This study examined the institutional settings of each country’s reforestation programs, focusing on the inputs of the external factors, their effects on the relevant action arena, and their own payment mechanisms. By conducting comparisons through the guiding framework, many lessons were learned.
South Korea, Vietnam, and China generally shared a commonality in that all major changes with respect to reforestation began in the highest levels of government, which realized its importance. For example, after a successful diagnosis of the underlying causes of deforestation, the governments of these countries established comprehensive plans to address these issues [11
]. In South Korea, the scarcity of fuel wood among rural people was caused by the excessive and massive cutting that occurred during colonization and the Korean War. It also resulted in many social and environmental problems, inspiring the central government to establish state-led forest restoration projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s, initiated by the president. As explained above, the highest levels of government recognized the value of domestic forests as well as the environmental and economic problems that were caused by deforestation and forest degradation. Increased education, training, and scientific research and development contributed to the adoption of more sustainable approaches. Raising awareness of forests’ roles as protectors of watersheds that feed agricultural and urban areas and foster biodiversity has been actively promoted by governments. The Korean case clearly shows the political will, financial resources, and the engagement of local communities were all mobilized properly to achieve a common goal [64
]. Additionally, forests have tended to take on greater national, cultural, and spiritual meaning. In Vietnam, deforestation resulted from the increasing scarcity of wood needed by the growing timber industry, along with economic transition. Since the Vietnamese economy is critically dependent on the watershed services provided by forests, the value of forests has been strongly promoted by the central government through large-scale restoration projects. In China, due to the massive damage resulting from devastating floods in 1998 that were associated with deforestation, the central government initiated the SLCP and implemented a series of regulations.
Rules of use, described as appropriate legislation and land tenure reform in the framework, also played an important role in restoration. In South Korea, unlike China and Vietnam, the proportion of private forests was significantly higher than that of public forests, so the central government encouraged private owners to reforest their land by enacting a law providing for “proxy execution.” Land owners could choose to either reforest the land themselves or let it be reforested and managed by VFAs in exchange for a percentage of the output. Due to major shifts in policies in terms of forest tenure reform, the government intensified its efforts and established various forms of usage rights for forest dwellers that played an important role in motivating participation. In Vietnam, forest land allocation has been fully implemented by the central government, and usage rights are renewable, transferable, and inheritable, making the land essentially privatized. In China, as a result of the decollectivized agriculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the HRS and forest tenure reform was introduced. The HRS is a village-based communal land tenure system in which farmers may contract for land use rights but not rights to the land itself. The core idea behind this system is that “Whoever plants maintains and benefits” [41
]. Subsequently, timber markets were opened to allow communities to negotiate sales and purchases of wood [10
In successful reforestation projects, various levels of actors played considerable roles. Regarding the country-wide cases examined here, the importance of international-level cooperation cannot be over-emphasized. South Korea received international financial assistance that provided food as wages for both reforestation and erosion control projects. South Korea also received instruction in forest conservation techniques, which contributed to the progress of the country’s capacity-building concerning forest management. In Vietnam, the central government enthusiastically sought support from the international community for forest restoration. A special partnership was established with international partners as a means of cooperation in the forest sector, and it has played a significant role in implementing the policy and building capacity. In China, many bilateral and multilateral donor agencies have also committed to provide financial aid or environmental loans to China since the 1990s. Similarly, national- and local-level actors’ contributions have been important. By sharing a vision of short- and long-term benefits, local governments and communities were encouraged to actively participate in the program. Clear guidelines and relevant laws should be developed with respect to each local situation. As experienced in recent Asian success cases, institutional arrangements and clearer ownership are needed for greater community participation [65
An action situation was defined as a payment mechanism in the study and was further described as involving general characteristics, design, and payment features. The three cases discussed above illustrated that sellers and, thus, beneficiaries were individuals and local communities who were directly influenced by reforestation efforts. In addition, the central governments were the initiators of the programs, as well as the buyer of the environmental services accrued from reforestation. To promote the sustainability of the reforestation policy, a special forestry fund was established which supported rural households with both cash and in-kind payments. In South Korea, a fund was established by the national treasury and was distributed not only for implementing forest restoration by the central government but also for providing loans to individual foresters. The budget shortage for the wood for fuel project was to be solved by a special allocation from the reserve funds [33
]. Vietnam also launched the 5MHRP fund through the Forest Sector Support Partnership in cooperation with international donors, which helped to sustain the program while implementing its policies. China established the Eco-Compensation fund for project implementation outside the scope of the higher budget allocated by the central government for forestry during the restoration project’s implementation period. It should be noted that reward (cash and in-kind payments) and voluntarism are both important factors, as they help participants understand the benefits and consequences when they fulfil and/or fail to comply with agreed rules [66
]. A recent study for Vietnam case shows, however, the a payment system can be susceptible to distributional risk, resulting in the rich getting most [67
]. This illustrates the highly organized institutional complexity of the inspection and monitoring system that is required for the efficient implementation of programs [68
This study is expected to provide a contribution to the literature on national-scale forest restoration by utilizing a relevant framework. The ability of nations that have implemented restoration programs to restore their forests is often influenced by external variables, including local biophysical conditions, local community attributes, and local, state, and federal rules. Each nation should carefully design and implement appropriate policies for actors as well as payment mechanisms. While these findings may not be readily applicable and transferable to other regions and countries, it is hoped that they will help to inform nations about how these variables affect decision-making and resource allocation and ultimately facilitate successful forest restoration.