ASIA – Ricardo Calderon, as the recently appointed executive director of the Seoul-based Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO), faces new challenges while working towards prospective goals he has for the forestry community.
On a personal level, Calderon — who is from the Philippines — is simply facing difficulties being away from home and adjusting to the new environment in Seoul, as his family, friends, relatives and colleagues are also struggling to adjust to the new climate, atmosphere and the language.
Calderon expects challenges while working in such a multi-cultural environment like Seoul. His experiences with such diversity was working as a member of the Career Executive Service serving the Philippine government and public for 34 years. As the acting Executive Director of AFoCO, he sees himself in a position of an international civil servant and counts on colleagues and the organization for strong support and cooperation so that they can fully carry out its goals.
He describes international organizations as the “catalysts for the coalition-formation,” as it “helps set the international agenda and promotes initiatives among the member countries.” International organizations are set to seek common goals to improve and narrow down any existing gaps between the associated countries. With this, he explained the AFoCO is a “treaty-based inter-governmental organization and is registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations.”
Through its vision statement, AFoCO calls for leadership in boosting sustainable forest management and promoting regional cooperation in Asia to strive for a greener future. AFoCo’s mission statement depicts its future intentions towards strengthening regional forest cooperation in Asia by putting proven technology and related policies into actions to address such negative impacts of climate change.
AFoCO, through the Secretariat and the Assembly, has invested in regional forest restoration programs in both research and rehabilitation. This action calls for the involvement of local communities and therefore generates livelihood, making them partners in maintaining the forest. It has already joined into a partnership with other forestry-related international organizations such as the World Agroforestry (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Global EverGreening Alliance. In addition, even as a young organization, it has even gained “Observer Status” in the UN General Assembly.
Executive Director Calderon sees himself as a “true blue forester.”
“Had I been much younger, hiking in at least one of the top four mountains of Seoul could surely have been on my bucket list,” he said, sharing his fondness for hiking. He now enjoys biking and playing golf and recommends the Han River trail biking path for those who are just getting to know the city. The bike path passes through many Seoul sights such as the Seoul Marina, the National Assembly, the Yeouido Han River Park and the Saetgang Ecological Park.
As a “forester,” he is interested in seeing more of the countryside and learning how local people live. He wishes to learn the culture and enjoy the views and the local food as well. Seoraksan National Park and the Hallyeo Maritime National Park have also caught his attention as top-rated ecological spots famous for its mountain and coastline views in Korea. Calderon hopes to explore the way forests and mountains of Korea are protected and managed, as he finds “Korea being a model in forest rehabilitation and reforestation efforts.”
On his new term as the Executive Director, Calderon focuses on the AFoCO approved 2021 Work Plan that is aligned with the Strategic Plan for the years 2019 to 2023.
“The general intention is to properly lead and work with the Secretariat to implement these planned activities, accomplish its objectives and plan further ahead — all these in the light of perceived challenges especially the ones posed by COVID-19,” he explained.
With the pandemic bringing a “new normal” for the world, he looks forward to achieving a few goals for the future through “continued dynamism and determination.”
The AFoCO aims to implement new projects as well as thoroughly monitor any ongoing projects directed by member parties. It hopes to continue building strong relationships with its partners through “increased visibility in the fields of landscape restoration focusing on Asian drylands.”
Calderon also emphasizes the importance for forestry research towards forest restoration in the application of proven technologies. Lastly, he intends to maximize the potential at the Regional Education and Training Center (RETC) in Myanmar to further train young forestry practitioners of member countries through customized training courses. This includes integrated learning strategies and applicable approaches to various forestry courses, such as project management and forest fire management.
On the role of the forestry sector in global environment efforts, Calderon said forests cover about 31 percent of the global land of 4.06 billion hectares, quoting data from the 2020 State of the World Forest Report of the FAO. Forests serve as the basic natural habitat for most of the earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. They serve as the “source of food, water, energy, medicines including livelihood and energy sources for millions of people.” In a similar manner, forests also serve as the carbon sink to which counters greenhouse gases on the issue of climate change. With this, the sustainable management of the forest, which is primarily responsible for the management, protection and conservation of all types of forests, plays a crucial role in the world’s efforts towards climate change and biodiversity conservation.
South Korea, through AFoCO, has already taken measures of leading and participating in partnerships and cooperation by “bringing the Asian countries together in a multilateral agreement and legally binding instrument on forest cooperation,” said Calderon about Korea’s role in international forest cooperation.
Even apart from AFoCo, Korea has put effort in the forest-sector international cooperation in various ways. This leadership in the field, according to Calderon, will bring more positive energy and best practices in the cooperation, which will further contribute to “sustaining forests for production, biodiversity, climate change and ecosystem services for the benefit of the present and future generations.”