As regular Google Earth users are aware, the DPRK has experienced significant deforestation in recent decades from both private and state actors. The former have cleared land for fuel/heat and private food production. The latter have felled forests to export lumber. However, without private property rights over the lumber and corollary price signals, we have witnessed yet another ”tragedy of the commons”–the over extraction of a common-pool resource.
As can be seen in the image above, official reforestation campaigns have been launched several times. According to Good Friends, the most recent was announced last September, shortly before the DPRK appointed a new forestry minister, Kim Kwang-yong. According to the Yonhap article below, however, South Koreans and Europeans have been supporting reforestation projects in the DPRK for nearly ten years:
North Korean workers and students rolled up their sleeves Monday for Tree-planting Day, state-run media said, amid continuing aid from South Korea despite damaged political relations.
North Korea has a high deforestation rate, as residents have cut down trees for fuel. Deforestation is closely linked to the country’s chronic food shortages, as barren mountain slopes leave rice farms prone to severe flooding by summer monsoons, according to aid workers in Seoul.
The North Korean government has banned cutting trees and sought to make its country greener with aid from South Korea and some European governments.
“Covered with trees are mountains and fields of the country from the foot of Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain of the revolution, to the military demarcation line and from the eastern coast to the western coast,” the Korean Central News Agency said in an English-language report titled “Greening and Gardening Campaign Gets Brisk.”
“The tree-planting campaign is being briskly undertaken everywhere in the country … changing the appearance of the country beyond recognition day by day,” it said.
South Korean government and civic groups have been operating sapling fields in the North Korean cities of Kaesong and Pyongyang, as well as near the North’s scenic resort Mount Kumgang, providing seedlings, equipment and technology since 1999. The project has cost South Korea some 9 billion won (US$5.7 million), according to the Ministry of Unification.
Aid workers said the inter-Korean forestry project has continued even though Pyongyang cut off all government-level dialogue in response to Seoul’s hardline policy toward it that began last year.
Ahn Sun-kyong, an aid worker from Green One Korea, an umbrella group of over a dozen non-governmental organizations in Seoul, said it plans to build a seed preservation facility and an apple farm in Pyongyang as new projects this year.
“There may be certain limitations, but this non-governmental exchange project will continue,” Ahn said.
Hwang Jae-sung from the Korean Sharing Movement, which operates the Kaepung sapling field in Kaesong as a member of Green One Korea, said most trees are prematurely cut by residents, who also rake up fallen leaves for fuel.
“Deforestation is directly linked to the food problem,” Hwang, who last visited Kaesong in November, said. “We believe tree planting in North Korea is not only useful for preventing floods, but also can be another means of resolving the food shortages in the North.”
The aid groups say 16-18 percent of North Korean forests, or 1.5-1.6 million hectares out of the North’s 8.9 million hectares of forests, are believed to be deforested. About 80 percent of North Korea is covered by mountains.
Although the support offered by these groups is necessary to restore ecological health and productive power of the DPRK’s agricultural lands, an unfortunate consequence will likely be growing restrictions on private food production which will necessarily require the North Korean people to once again rely on the state for food distribution.
Read the Yonhap story here:
N. Koreans work to make country green on Tree-planting Day: report