News / Asia

    Trees are North Korea Latest Weapons Against Hunger, Floods

    Small project that plants trees alongside crops gains favor with communist-led government

    North Korean farmers are planting fruit and nut trees on hillsides to produce food and prevent erosion.
    North Korean farmers are planting fruit and nut trees on hillsides to produce food and prevent erosion.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Deforestation has contributed to major floods while also worsening chronic hunger problems in North Korea but now the communist-led government is supporting a small but growing effort to recover the hillsides with fruit and nut trees.

    For more than four decades after its creation in the wake of the Second World War, North Korea relied on its communist ally, the Soviet Union, to provide fertilizer for its farms. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, food production in North Korea plummeted.

    Environmental mess

    Deputy Director Marcus Noland of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics has studied North Korea since 1995. He says as food production fell, forests in mountainous areas were cleared to grow more crops.  

    "And as trees were cut down on the hillsides, that contributed to soil erosion, river silting, which exacerbated the seasonal flooding problems," says Noland. "So, the North Koreans have ended up with a real environmental mess on their hands."

    Major floods hit North Korea in 2007 and again this summer. But the environmental issues first got the government's attention in 1995, when catastrophic floods damaged about 40 percent of the country's rice paddies and contributed to a famine that killed an estimated two million people.

    "Then the government said, 'Okay, we need to do something,'" says Xu Jianchu, a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Center, a  global research institution.

    According to Xu, different government ministries had different ideas concerning what to do about the floods. In many places, people had cut down trees to grow their own food. Xu says the agriculture ministry wanted trees back on the mountainsides and people's crops off them.

    A North Korean man shows off a grafted pear seeding.
    A North Korean man shows off a grafted pear seeding.

    Trees and crops together

    But the environment ministry took a different view. Working with the Swiss aid agency, it started a small pilot project in 2002 to plant fruit and nut trees and medicinal bushes on the sloping hillsides, alongside people's crops.

    "We get the tree cover back, and, second, also, we do provide the needs of the local people for food," says Jianchu.

    The World Agroforestry Center joined the project in 2008. Earlier in the decade, Pyongyang had begun loosening its tight controls over the country's food production. Xu says the government organized households into user groups which were given autonomy to choose what kinds of trees to grow. That was important, Xu says, because for one thing, the government had been offering only pine, poplar and larch trees for hillside planting - three species the farmers didn't want really don't want because they were not related to their food security.

    User groups are raising fruit seedlings, which are often not available from the local government forestry nursery.
    User groups are raising fruit seedlings, which are often not available from the local government forestry nursery.

    The user groups were allowed to establish their own fruit-tree nurseries to expand production. With help terracing the steep hills and improving their farming practices, Xu says food production has increased, and farmers are even selling their surplus in local markets.

    However, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of how much they are producing. According to Xu, people tend to say they grew less than they did because they believe the government will take away their surplus.

    "They try to always under-report what they harvest because sometimes they are still afraid the government will take away if they produce too much," he says.

    A good start

    While the policy remains controversial, Xu says it's gaining support in the government. He says the best indication that the project is working is that it's growing.

    What started with just three groups is now up to about 60, covering several hundred hectares of land.

    That's a small fraction of the more than one million acres of deforested hillside being farmed, according to a report Xu co-wrote on the subject.

    But it's a good start, says the Peterson Institute's Marcus Noland.

    "I'm not sure whether the policies they're now pursuing on these projects are the most optimal, but the idea that at least they're trying to plant trees and reverse some of this process is a good sign."

    But Noland adds that deforestation is just one of the major food production problems North Korea faces. He says it will take a revival of the country's overall economy to end the country's chronic problems with hunger.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.