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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid