North Korean reforestation in practice

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On this blog, we’ve often written about forestry issues in North Korea. It’s a particularly interesting area from an economic point of view, because it embodies many of the fundamental problems with central planning in North Korea. DailyNK reports on how these problems continue to show up in the current reforestation campaign:

“On Arbor Day (March 2), the grounds still hadn’t thawed from the winter cold, so no matter how hard you try, the trees aren’t able to secure their roots,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday. “There’s not enough manpower to dig through the frozen ground, and the tree and forest management offices are all for show. So from the initial planting stage, we’re unable to find healthy saplings to plant.”

(See this post for some pictures from the Russian embassy’s activities on Arbor Day).

Sources in Ryanggang Province and South Hamgyong Province corroborated this news.

“On top of that, those from above are pushing the citizenry to plant tens of thousands of trees in time for the ‘70-Day Battle’, so some people find tree segments without roots and just place them in the soil, before reporting them as progress made,” he added. “You can even see people who don’t have the money to buy these saplings, going out at night to uproot those planted elsewhere and transferring them to new areas that have been designated for forestation that month.”

North Korea has for many years pushed for reforestation in the spring with all-out campaigns, but the results have been negligible so far, according to the source. This is because the majority of the trees planted each year are unable to survive due to poor soil conditions and problems with sapling health. Even those that manage to survive do not last long in the absence of proper care.

Not only that, some people quietly cut down the trees to use for firewood, while others uproot them to cultivate the corn needed to feed their families, as many are planted on small mountain plots that were previously used by individuals to grow produce.

A defector with three decades of experience participating in reforestation campaigns in the North explained that such efforts are destined to fail as long as people are struggling to resolve fundamental necessities like securing enough food and fuel for heat.

“Outside of Pyongyang, people in the North don’t use gas to heat their homes, so they’re out looking for coal or firewood. Without enough coal in the rural areas, they have no choice but to go to the mountains and chop down trees,” said the source, who declined to be identified, adding that the situation is no different when the land needs to be cleared for crops.

South Korea previously supported the North’s reforestation efforts, the defector noted, adding that, “more than 100,000 trees were sent over during that time, but they probably all ended up in cadres’ furnaces,” emphasizing how futile these campaigns are when more pressing needs exist.

If the central government orders that trees must be planted, they must be planted, no matter the conditions on the ground. The problem, of course, is much deeper than just a lack of tree plantation efforts. As long as North Korea’s structural energy and food problems aren’t alleviated, campaigns like this one are bound to have little success in the long run.

Full article here:
Another year, another misguided attempt at reforestation
Kim Ga Young
DailyNK 
2016-04-07

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