The Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO) is a newly established Intergovernmental Organisation with the secretariat based in Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, The Republic of Korea.
The primary mandate of this organisation is to strengthen regional forest cooperation that supports restoration of degraded forests and landscapes through proven technologies of best practices in sustainable forest management, including capacity building of stakeholders. The Assembly is the highest decision making body of the organisation and is made up of the representatives of parties. The Assembly meets annually to review and endorse the programmes and projects proposed by the technical working group. AFoCO looks forward to working with multiple stakeholders both in the region and globally to achieve the larger mission of making Asia Greener and Happier.
Genesis of AFoCO
The proposal to establish the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Republic of Korea (ROK) forest partnership or Asian Forest Cooperation Organisation (AFoCo) was wellreceived at the ASEAN and ROK commemorative summit in June 2009. The intent of ROK was to share Korea’s twenty five years of experiences in forest restoration and rehabilitation with other ASEAN countries in the forest sector with a bold commitment for action:
“It is time for Action as enough talking has been done”.
AFoCo with the financial support from ROK began its field operation in the ASEAN member states from 2012 through 2016. During the ASEAN-ROK commemorative summit in 2013, a new dialogue to establish Asian Forest Cooperation Organisation (AFoCO) under the multilateral protocol by extending invitation to prospective members from the Asia region was endorsed. The ASEAN member states, ROK and the prospective members (Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Timor-Leste) attended six rounds of meetings to draft and negotiate the Agreement Text. The agreement came into force in April 2018 after seven member countries (Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Myanmar, The Republic of Korea, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam) ratified and deposited the instrument. Of late, the Philippines, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Indonesia ratified and deposited the instrument while Kazakhstan, and Mongolia has reached advance stage of their internal processes.
ASEAN-ROK Partnership – Four Years of Project Implementations ( 2012-2016)
Under the umbrella of AFoCo or ASEAN-ROK partnership in the forestry sector, the ASEAN member states executed a number of regional, landmark and country led projects. The projects covered areas ranging from policy support interventions to engaging villagers in forest restoration and rehabilitation actions with investments of close to US $24 million from the Republic of Korea. Some of the highlights include the establishment of the Regional Education Training Centre (RETC) in Myanmar; provided scholarships to 10 Master and 4 PhD students; 7 fellowship officials worked at the secretariat office for a duration of 12 months; implemented field activities at 12 rehabilitation sites including 15 villages. The partnership has also signed a memorandum of understanding with a number of universities in the Republic of Korea like Seoul National University, Yeungnam University and Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul; the local institutes like Korea National Institute of Forest Science; and International organisations including FAO, RECOFTC, ITTO.
AFoCO promotes Action through Partnership
The Asian Forest Cooperation Organisation began its operation from January 2019 as an Inter-Governmental Organisation. The first Assembly in Nov 2018 approved the rules of procedures, staff and financial regulations, the strategic plan (2019-2023) of the organisation and appointed the first executive director of the organisation. The core values that guided the preparation of the strategic plan (2019-2023) include member-driven partnerships nurtured through transparency, equity, competency, and sustainability. ROK provides 80 percent of the operational cost and the balance 20 percent is contributed by the parties. AFoCO is exploring additional financial mechanisms, like accreditation to the Green Climate Fund, Official Development Assistance and private funding windows to expand its portfolios.
AFoCO has also started work on membership registration and accreditations to UN agnecies and other global organisations.
AFoCO is committed to facilitate the transfer and translation of best policies and experiences of reforestation and rehabilitations into site-specific actions where it is most needed. The targeted actions in consultation and in partnership with the stakeholders, amongst others include the promotion of sustainable forest management actions, support healthy ecosystem services and initiatives of REDD plus including adaptations to climate change impacts; combat forest and land degradations, and mitigate forest related disasters like forest fires. Equally important is to equip local partners with technical know-how and skills to deliver these best practices, and sustain programs in the distant future. One of the mechanisms deployed is through Fellowship and Scholar programmes that allow competitively selected candidates to work at AFoCO secretariat in Seoul for the duration of one year, and study at good universities in ROK or in the region for PhD and Masters degree programs.
AFoCO has established good working relationships with a number of institutes and organisations in the region known widely for its applied science programs. The registered experts from these institutes and organisations carry out the project appraisal tasks, and also serve as resource personnel at RETC. RETC in Myanmar is equipped with technical meeting as well as modern boarding facilities, creating conducive environment for knowledge and skill enrichment. The centre is also developing a forest experimental plot, and botanical garden in an area of 116 hectares of tropical forest. In due course of time, the participants including community leaders, researchers, forest practitioners and members of parliament are also expected to take part in specially designed topical discourses like climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, and ecosystem services for well-being. These initiatives in partnership with the local institutes are aimed at assisting parties to achieve global commitments such as SDG 13, SDG 15, the Paris Agreement, and the Bonn Challenge in particular.
AFoCO believes in inclusive participation and in leaving no one behind. The organisation, thus places great emphasis on strengthening cooperation and building partnerships as crucial in addressing local environment degradations and climate change impacts.
Contributed by Chencho Norbu