A Chat With: Seong-il Kim about forestry studies in South Korea

Seong-il Kim

By Julie Mollins

BOGOR, Indonesia (CIFOR) — Seong-il Kim, a professor of “Ecosystem Services and Society” and “Ecotourism Development” since 1992 at Seoul National University in Seoul, South Korea, is a leading scholar of forestry and sustainable development.

An active contributor to environmental policy, he introduced the concept of ecotourism to South Korea and now serves as co-president of Ecotourism Korea.

He has been a committee member with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the World Commission on Protected Areas and served as a member of Korea’s Presidential Committee on Green Growth.

His educational background includes: forestry and landscape architecture at Seoul National University in South Korea; environmental studies in the United States at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

In a session hosted by the ASEAN-Korea Forest Cooperation (AFoCo) partnership at the Forests Asia Summit, he will discuss the role of forestry education and research.

The AFoCo partnership aims to develop potential for green growth through regional training and academic activities that raise public awareness about forest restoration and sustainable forestry.

Q: How do you define higher forestry education? 

A: I think higher forestry education should include life-long capacity-building programs for professionals already working in the field, as well as university degree programs to meet rapidly changing societal needs for forests and forestry.

Q: How do you define new challenges and demand for forestry in the future?

A: Timber and non-timber goods can no longer define boundaries of forestry. Forest ecosystem services through forest landscape management (restoration) should be the focus for the future.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing South Korea in terms of forestry education? Is it funding, teacher quality, student access or affordability?

A: Mismatch between social needs — jobs — and scientific inquiries from academia. In the Republic of Korea (ROK), almost all the opportunities for forestry education, including money, infrastructure and student quality can be supported. Nevertheless, this academic discipline hasn’t been able to secure enough jobs. Other than in national universities, the forest sciences discipline has died out already.

Q: What can be done to ensure that these challenges to South Korea’s forestry education are met?

A: Republic of Korea challenges will be a paradigm shift focusing more on international forestry and forest landscape restoration for sustainable commodity production and livelihoods. New Forest Education for ROK should be led by forest overseas development agencies and bi- or multi-lateral forest cooperation projects, particularly with AFoCO member states and North Korea.

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