Swiss assistance to the DPRK

According to Swissinfo:

Agape international is a Swiss charity with about 60 development and aid projects on the go in 15 countries. It has been active in North Korea since 1995, where its focus is agriculture and energy.

Burckhardt travels to North Korea a couple of times a year and has even lived there for up to a few months at a time. Despite his knowledge, he has experienced ageism personally.

“As long as you don’t have grey hair, you cannot tell an older person to do something. I can make suggestions, but I cannot tell someone what to do,” Burckhardt told swissinfo.ch.

Agri-challenged
One area where North Korea has really needed advice is agriculture. After initial donations of food to help fight the famine of the mid-1990s, Agape has been helping local farmers improve their techniques.

“North Korea is a mountainous country, like Switzerland. Only in the valleys can you grow rice and corn,” Burckhardt pointed out. In comparison, South Korea has more favourable conditions for agriculture.

After the split of North and South Korea in 1945, the DPRK received food assistance from socialist countries – the Soviet Union in particular. By the beginning of the 1990s, the country could no longer count on this support and the agriculture sector deteriorated.

“The mechanisation of the agro sector is far behind the 1980s, and fertiliser production can’t cope with the need,” explained Martin Weiersmüller, country director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC) office in Pyongyang. “In addition to these economical and technical factors, from the mid-90s the weather conditions worsened and food production fell drastically – which resulted in the tragic famine that killed more than one million people.”

The SDC has been active in North Korea since 1995 and has had an office there since 1997.

“We base this presence on the situation of the distressed population, whose basic provisions have hardly improved since 1995,” Weiersmüller told swissinfo.ch. Boosting food supply security is still the priority for the SDC’s programme in North Korea, which has a budget of SFr 5.5 million ($6 million) in 2012.

This will be the eighth year that the SDC has helped North Korean farmers learn how to cultivate sloping land. To date, about 3,500 people have had the chance to farm ten hectares of land in cooperation with the SDC and the local ministry of environmental protection.

“Today, the results of this long-term programme are fully recognised, not only by the population in the project area, but also by the government, which is looking to extend the activities on a nationwide scale,” Weiersmüller said.

Meanwhile, Agape runs a programme where North Korean farmers live and work on Swiss farms to improve their skills.

New energy
Energy is another focus of Agape’s efforts in the DPRK.

Burckhardt explains that the charity has worked in the area of food security and agriculture for the past ten years. Energy is the second biggest problem facing North Korea, he says.

“I think these will continue to be the two main priorities, and they are related to each other. If you don’t have energy, you cannot increase production with mechanisation, and if you don’t mechanisation, you need a lot of people to do the work.”

With the support of Agape, North Korean villagers built a windmill in 2009. It generates enough power for ten families. Since then, a second and more powerful windmill has followed and there has been enough enthusiasm to stage workshops and design contests.

“We’ve seen that if people get a chance to change things, they will take that chance. We’ve found people that made a difference within the [windmill] project and adapted things well,” Burckhardt said.

Future involvement
Both the SDC and Agape intend to continue their work in North Korea.

“The SDC office in Pyongyang, under the lead of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid, agreed with the government on the three-year strategy 2012-2014. For the time being a possible phasing out of Switzerland’s humanitarian activities in the DPRK is not foreseen,” Weiersmüller said.

Agape typically plans two years in advance: “We will continue as long as we have the chance and North Korea is interested in the support and the partnership,” Burckhardt said.

As for Kim Jong-un, Burckhardt says the North Koreans will likely watch him and see how he acts before judging him.

“They didn’t know a lot about him so they will make up their minds watching him in the months to come. They will see how things change and then form their opinions. It will take some time.”

Read the full story here:
Swiss aid continues under Kim Jong-un regime
Swissinfo
Susan Vogel-Misicka
2012-4-2

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