Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category

The economy in Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address: what’s there and what isn’t

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The supposed hydrogen bomb test has come to dominate the news on North Korea over the past few days, for obvious reasons. Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address has naturally ended up in the shadow of the nuclear test, but it is worth going back for a closer look. Overall, it is a speech that appears to contain few major announcements or indications. Perhaps more surprising than what themes are there, are the themes that are absent.

Stephan Haggard pretty much sums up how economic matters are treated in the speech, as they often are in North Korean rhetoric on economics: “As usual, the economic components of the speech rely more on exhortation than any clear policy message, confusing results with the means of achieving them.”

That is, in much of the speech, Kim simply talks about what will be achieved but leaves out how to get thereTake the following paragraph, for example (my emphasis added):

The Cabinet and other state and economic organs should decisively improve their economic planning and guidance. Leading economic officials should fully equip themselves with Party policy, work out plans of the economic work in an innovative way and give a strong push to it on the principle of developing all the sectors at an exponential speed by relying on the inexhaustible creative strength of the working people and by dint of modern science and technology. They should accurately identify the main link in the whole chain of economic development and concentrate efforts on it while revitalizing the overall economy, especially when the conditions are not favourable and many difficulties arise. They should be proactive in organizing and launching the work of establishing on a full scale our style of economic management method which embodies the Juche idea, thus giving full play to its advantages and vitality.

And:

All the sectors of the national economy should set ambitious goals and maintain regular production by tapping every possible internal reserve and potentiality.

Those who are more savvy at reading between the lines and interpreting rhetorical symbolisms can perhaps draw out meaningful signals from quotes such as these. But at face-value, they seem to give little indication of policy changes. Or of any policy at all, for that matter.

What are the areas that Kim hold up as economic priorities, then? Stephan Haggard points out heavy industry as one such theme. It is also the one mentioned first in the speech. Infrastructure and power supply also features fairly prominently (and is mentioned early on), with specific references to several power station construction projects. Kim also mentions IT and the “knowledge-driven economy” (emphasis added):

Our working class, scientists and technicians, true to the instructions of the great leaders, made a big stride in making the metallurgical industry Juche-based, built model, standard factories of the era of the knowledge-driven economy in various parts of the country and put production lines on a modern and IT footing, thus opening a new road of advance for developing the overall economy and improving the people’s standard of living.

Presumably, this is what North Korean media mean when they talk about the H-bomb test as an economic boost: that such capabilities show North Korea’s strength as a knowledge-based economy.

Domestic production capabilities are highlighted all the way through. This theme isn’t new. Kim Jong-un has often emphasized the importance of goods diversity and local production. This lies well in line with the basic economic tenets of the Juche doctrine. Here is one example of how domestic production capacity is highlighted in the speech (emphasis added):

The flames of the campaign to implement the Party’s ideas and defend its policies have unfolded a proud reality of our indigenous plane flying in the sky and our indigenous subway train running under the ground, and rich fish and fruit harvests were gathered, their socialist flavour bringing pleasure to the people.

One theme that features relatively prominently is construction. In one paragraph, Kim even states that “Construction is a yardstick and visual evidence for the strength of a country and the quality of its civilization”, and continues to urge the country to build more:

The construction sector should launch a general offensive to implement the Party’s construction policy and grand plan. By doing so, it should build important production facilities, educational and cultural institutions and dwelling houses on the highest possible level and at the fastest possible speed, so that they serve as standards and models of the times. In this way it can make sure that the great heyday of construction continues without letup.

Perhaps this is an indication that the building boom in Pyongyang of the past few years will continue. Priorities such as this one primarily benefit those political classes that live in Pyongyang. With few exceptions, as far as I’m aware, most other cities have seen little of the construction boom that the capital city has experienced.

There is also a reference to the coal mining industry. On the one hand, it may be interesting because North Korea’s main export destination for coal is China, and these trade flows have been volatile over the years, and there have been signs that North Korea isn’t getting a good deal in this trade. But on the other hand, this may be reading too much into one small reference in the speech (emphasis added):

In order to achieve breakthroughs for a turning point in building an economic giant the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and the rail transport sector should advance dynamically in the vanguard of the general offensive.

Later, coal mining appears only in reference to the domestic power supply (emphasis added):

All sectors and all units should wage a vigorous campaign to economize on electricity and make effective use of it. The sector of coal-mining industry should raise the fierce flames of an upsurge in production to ensure enough supply of coal for the thermal power stations and several sectors of the national economy.

There are two themes that are surprisingly absent. One is agriculture. Agricultural policy is barely present, and when it is, management methods aren’t mentioned. For example:

The agricultural sector should actively adopt superior strains and scientific farming methods, speed up the comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy and take strict measures for each farming process, so as to carry out the cereals production plan without fail.

This is a little surprising, because regime sources have claimed that agricultural production has been boosted during the year, and management reforms with greater incentives for farmers have been touted as the reason. (A close look at the numbers indicates that agricultural production has declined slightly during 2015, moving it towards the average of the 2000s.) If agricultural reforms have indeed been a central tenet of Kim Jong-un’s economic policies, one could at least have expected a reference to these reforms in the speech.

The second theme that is strangely absent is forestry policy. It is only mentioned in one sentence:

The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should buckle down to the campaign to restore the forests of the country.

During the past year, Kim Jong-un has highlighted forestry policy as a key area. He has talked openly and frankly about the role of tree felling in causing floods and subsequent food shortages, and promoted reforestation, albeit not in a way that is likely to work very well. North Korean media has singled out tree nurseries for not doing their job properly. In sum, forestry has been relatively high on the agenda, but the topic still barely made it into the speech.

All in all, from an economic policy standpoint, this year’s New Year’s Address did not contain any major bombshells. The fact that economic issues appear right after the section on the upcoming party congress may be a hint that such issues will be high on the agenda, but then again, it might not mean much at all. Moreover, it is unclear how much can really read into the New Year’s Address for hints about regime policies and priorities. After all, the speech contained virtually no allusions to the H-bomb test that was to come only days later.

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The limits of agriculture reform in North Korea

Friday, December 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Agricultural reforms in North Korea became a hot topic of discussion almost right away when Kim Jong-un took power in 2011. Only a number of months into his tenure, news began to come out of the country about attempts at agricultural reforms. It is unclear when (or even if) the June 28th Measures were finally extended to the whole country.

At the very least, three years in, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that North Korean agriculture has undergone major changes. These have been aimed at boosting production by creating better incentives for farmers to produce and sell more of their output to the state rather than diverting it to the market. The most important aspects of these reforms are the decreased size of work teams and new rules that let farmers keep 30 percent of their production plus any surplus above production targets, while the state takes the remaining 70.

These changes have been met with optimism among some. However, no one really knows exactly what impact these reforms have had. North Korean agriculture may be faring better than it used to – although this is also doubtful – but even so, it is too simplistic to assume that government reforms in agricultural management are doing all the work. As long as North Korea’s agriculture continues to be centrally planned by the state, there will be limits to how much better it can get no matter what reforms the state implements.

To see why, consider some of the news that have been coming out of North Korea in the past few months, as reported by Daily NK. In late November, the online daily reported that in despite by multilateral aid organizations, North Korea had seen relatively good harvests this year. However, the increased harvests, according to people inside the country, were not caused by changes in the agricultural management system of state-operated collective farms.

Rather, the North Koreans interviewed for the story claimed that private plot farmers had been better able to protect their crops from adverse weather impacts by using water pumps and other equipment. Even though trends like these alone probably have a limited impact, this shows that many circumstances other than state management matter.

A few weeks later, Daily NK published another interview carrying a similar message. According to sources inside the country, harvests from collective farms have declined, while private plot production has gone up (author’s emphasis added):

The amount of food harvested this year from the collective farms has “once again fallen short of expectations,” he said, adding that the farmers who work on them have criticized the orders coming down from the authorities, saying that “if we do things the way they want us to, it’s not going to work.”

Although the regime has forced people to mobilize, the source asserted that farm yields are not increasing. So, then, “the best thing to do would be to further divide the land up among individuals,” he posited.

Our source wondered if individual farms were not more successful because each person tending them personally grew and watered their plants. Currently, farmers must follow directives regarding the amount of water they can use on collective farms. He warned that if the system is not completely overhauled, crop yields will fail to improve.

In other words: as is so often the case, management orders from above often do not align with the reality on the ground.

One should be careful not to draw too many general conclusions based on individual interviews, but this is a well known general problem in all planned economies. Even with the best intentions, the state can never be fully informed about conditions and resources on the ground in an entire society.

This is one of the many reasons why economic central planning falters. We have seen this, too, with Kim Jong-un’s forestry policies. The state gives orders that have unintended consequences on the ground, because information is lacking. No central planning team can be fully informed about the reality prevailing throughout the system. The information problem becomes particularly dire in authoritarian dictatorships like North Korea, where people at the lower end of hierarchies often have strong incentives not to speak up about implementation problems when orders come from the top.

Ultimately, no matter what management reforms the North Korean regime implements, the country’s economic system remains the basic stumbling block. As long as central planning continues to be the ambition of economic and agricultural policies, there will be a limit to the success that agricultural policies can reach. We may expect to see agricultural reforms continuing, but as long as the system remains, they can hardly be revolutionary.

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North Korean state media still not pleased with forest restoration

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

A new brief from IFES recaps the content of yet another North Korean TV broadcast detailing problems arising as the new forestry policies are being implemented:

On August 26, 2015, Korean Central Television (KCTV) aired a program entitled, Let’s Go Forward in Patriotism and Strength in the Forest Restoration Battle. The broadcast criticized several Forest Management Centers, including one in North Hwanghae Province’s Songnim. “They set up sun shades carelessly and then do not even water saplings properly. As a result saplings have become withered and yellow,” the program alleged.

The broadcast went on to a scathing critique of the tree nursery’s poor management: “The spraying equipment also does not properly work […] No more than 30% of the trees are alive […] The soil is overgrown with weeds […] One of the trees still has not sprouted.”

It also condemned the management of the Kangdong County tree nursery. “Because they do not properly conduct fertilizer management and also do not follow water guarantee measures, the saplings turn yellow and wither away. In the vegetable gardens there is so much seaweed that it is difficult to tell whether they are fields of saplings or meadows.”

“The fact that saplings can not grow properly is not due to unfavorable climate conditions but the defeatist and ‘non-owner’ work attitudes of the Forest Management Center workers and tree nursery work groups, who half-heartedly do their work and quit,” the broadcast added.

Read the full article:

IFES NK Brief

North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results

03-09-2015

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Why won’t North Korean trees grow like Kim Jong-un told them to?

Friday, September 4th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The forestry campaign that Kim Jong-un launched in a speech earlier this year continues. According to a new brief by IFES, North Korean state media has criticized certain nurseries for poor management.

North Korea has once again come out on broadcast television criticizing the poor management of tree nurseries at some of its Forest Management Centers. This public criticism of the forest restoration effort comes after the emergence of Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yeo Jong, as an influential figure in the Department of Propaganda and Agitation.

On August 26, 2015, Korean Central Television (KCTV) aired a program entitled, Let’s Go Forward in Patriotism and Strength in the Forest Restoration Battle. The broadcast criticized several Forest Management Centers, including one in North Hwanghae Province’s Songnim. “They set up sun shades carelessly and then do not even water saplings properly. As a result saplings have become withered and yellow,” the program alleged.

The broadcast went on to a scathing critique of the tree nursery’s poor management: “The spraying equipment also does not properly work […] No more than 30% of the trees are alive […] The soil is overgrown with weeds […] One of the trees still has not sprouted.”

It also condemned the management of the Kangdong County tree nursery. “Because they do not properly conduct fertilizer management and also do not follow water guarantee measures, the saplings turn yellow and wither away. In the vegetable gardens there is so much seaweed that it is difficult to tell whether they are fields of saplings or meadows.”

“The fact that saplings can not grow properly is not due to unfavorable climate conditions but the defeatist and ‘non-owner’ work attitudes of the Forest Management Center workers and tree nursery work groups, who half-heartedly do their work and quit,” the broadcast added.

It went on to say, “When the workers use their heads creatively and engage in the work enterprisingly, great results are achieved in the expansion of the country’s permanent assets […] If all combatants in the forest restoration work sincerely, the Party’s forest restoration plans will be moved forward.”

One could of course argue that the issues described might result from the disconnect between political orders and constraints on the ground. For example, it has been reported that tree species that would suit local conditions in certain parts of the country would take at least three years to produce, but that the central government authorities want things to proceed immediately anyway. I am no forestry expert but it seems like a difficult task for even the most stern of political orders to make trees grow properly in the wrong conditions.

The full text of the IFES brief is available here:

North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University

2015-09-03

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A closer look at Kim Jong-un’s forestry speech

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Vice-premier Choe Yong-gon was reportedly executed because he criticized Kim Jong-un’s reforestation policy initiative. It is interesting to look in more depth at what these policies actually are.

The forestry issue is tightly connected and reinforced both to the lack of food and energy, and to flooding damage. (I have laid out some of these connections in an earlier post.) There can be little doubt that Kim Jong-un is justified in focusing attention to the forestry issue.

The best (and only?) official guide I have seen so far to the policies underlying the reforestation drive of the past few months – which, again, Choe was reportedly executing for criticizing – is a speech delivered by Kim Jong-un to “senior officials of the party, the army and the state economic organs on February 26, Juche 104 (2015).” To understand the reforestation policies and their pitfalls, this speech is an interesting piece of information. Here are a few interesting things to note from the speech:

First, Kim is quite frank about describing the core problem. In the beginning of the speech, he talks openly about how the “arduous march” (the famine of the 1990s) has led people to cut down trees on a large scale across the country. He also mentions the reasons: to “obtain cereals and firewood”, and talks about how this causes landslides and flooding. Perhaps this is part of an overall pattern in recent years where North Korean authorities are less prone to deny the extent of problems and sometimes even exaggerate them, as may have been the case with the drought impact warnings of the early summer.

But it is also interesting to speculate about whether this says something about the way that information is treated in the uppermost echelons of North Korea. Some have claimed that Kim Il-sung might not have been informed of the extent of the country’s economic problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and that this might have been the case for Kim Jong-il as well. In this context, the frank way in which Kim Jong-un describes the results of the lack of food and fuel is striking.

Earlier official narratives of the impacts of natural disasters, like those in the mid-1990s, have often blamed the impacts on nature rather than on politics. Kim Jong-un seems to see it the other way around (which of course makes all the sense in the world).

Second, Kim seems to criticize politicized forestry management. In one sentence, he says that trees shouldn’t just be planted on official days and ceremonial “tree-planting days” (my emphasis):

Forest planting should not be done in such a way as planting some trees ceremoniously on tree­-planting days or transplanting fully­ grown trees, as was done in the past. It should be done in the way of raising young trees in large numbers and enlisting all the people in transplanting and cultivating them.

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but this can be read as a criticism of the North Korean practice of honoring various occasions by economic measures, like doling out extra rations on the leader’s birthdays et cetera. At least in forestry, Kim seems to be advocating pragmatism at the expense of ideological rigour. He also gives an anti-formalism shoutout later on, saying that

The plan for forest restoration should not remain in figures or charts on a piece of paper.

Third, Kim indicates that tree-felling will become more severely punished. He calls unauthorized felling of trees an act of “treachery” (my emphasis):

Random felling of trees in mountains must be prohibited. Now some people climb mountains and cut down trees to obtain firewood or timber without permission as they do not care a bit about the country’s forests. Unauthorized felling of trees is tantamount to treachery. All the people on this land should treasure and protect even a blade of grass and a tree of their country.

Later on, he says that

Random felling should be made a serious issue of whatever the unit concerned is and whoever the person concerned is.

This might speak against the sense of pragmatism mentioned above. Of course, people aren’t cutting down trees for fun or to ruin things for the state. It’s part of the coping-behavior that has been developed since the famine, where people do what they can to get by.

The state has expanded the scope for what is allowed in other areas, such as private market trade, in order to better align with the reality on the ground. Here, in contrast, Kim seems to suggest that cutting down trees must be punished more harshly, even though the core reasons why people cut down trees to begin with – lack of fuel and food – remain. Implementing harsher punishments would probably be a difficult task for local authorities.

Kim does mention that the fuel problem needs to be solved that that trees should be planted specifically for firewood. But almost in passing: he basically says that the fuel problem should be solved and moves on (I don’t imagine that most North Korean localities have the resources necessary to replace firewood with biogas at the moment):

In order to conserve forest resources, we should solve the people’s problem of fuel. Positive measures should be taken to solve this problem, including creating forests for firewood in every place and increasing the production and supply of coal for the people’s living. There are several units which have solved the fuel problem with biogas, fly ash or ultraanthracite. By actively popularizing their experience, we should ensure that all regions solve the fuel problem on any account by their own effort.

The strategy outlined isn’t all that impressive, and the forestry issue highlights politics as a battle for scarce resources: on the one hand, the state needs to prevent the floods and landslides that keep coming back every summer. On the other hand, people on the ground need a way to access firewood and space to grow food as the state isn’t providing these things. The problem won’t be solved by just saying that everyone should have access to fuel and all will be well. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to follow how this all plays out, and how the policies that Kim has outlined will be implemented (or not implemented) on the ground.

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It all comes together: North Korea’s floods, forests and the rumored execution

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Two of the main news stories on North Korea right now – the rumored execution of Choe Yong-gon and the summer floods that have washed away thousands of hectares of farmland, and thus far killed 21 people (as reported on August 5th) – have something in common. They both show the politically sensitive and dire nature of North Korea’s forestry problem.

For decades, North Korea has had a big problem with its trees being cut down at a large scale.

There are two main reasons for this: 1) trees being cleared for farmland, and 2) wood becoming an increasingly important source of energy as other ones have waned. (I recall reading about cutting down trees for hillside farming as an edict from Kim Il-sung, which could explain why it’s taken so long for the policy to become openly questioned, but I cannot find the source for this at the moment.)

According to research by the World Resources Institute, forests about 18 times the size of Manhattan have been destroyed in the country for over ten years. Another institute has concluded that forest cover in the country dropped by 17 percent between 1970 and the late 1990s. Presumably it has become even worse since private hillside farming has increased.

The effect of this is visible for anyone who visits North Korea’s border either from South Korea or China. While North Korea’s hills are barren, the landscape is usually lush and green on the other side.

This is visible on Google Earth as well. Below is a picture showing Ganghwa island on the South Korean side. Its landscape is significantly more green than that in North Korea, north of the light yellow line.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 14.15.30

Image credit: Google Earth

As has long been known, this creates immense problems when the summer rains come. Without tree roots to soak  up the water, hills become too heavy and collapse, taking down much of the crops with them. So far, this year’s rains do not seem to have had as bad of an impact on the crops as in previous years, but the rainy season still isn’t over.

As Curtis has previously pointed out on this blog, this is a classical example of the tragedy of the commons. Since the state owns the forests, people have no direct incentive to treat them in a long-run beneficial way.

This is where the recently reported execution comes in. According to news reports, Choe Yong-gon was executed because he criticized Kim Jong-un’s forestry policies. What were these policies, and why was Choe supposedly critical of them?

It was in a speech on February 26th this year that Kim Jong-un outlined new plans for reforestation of the country. In the speech that was later printed in full in Rodong SinmunKim laid out the problem in a relatively frank way (emphasis added):

However, as people have felled trees at randomsince the days of the Arduous March on the plea of obtaining cereals and firewood and, worse still, as no proper measures have been taken to prevent forest fire, the precious forest resources of the country have decreased to a great extent. As the mountains are sparsely wooded, even a slightly heavy rain in the rainy season causes flooding and landslides and rivers dry up in the dry season; this greatly hinders conducting economic construction and improving people’s standard of living. Despite this, our officials have confined themselves to reconstructing roads or buildings damaged by flooding, failing to take measures for eliminating the cause of flood damage by planting a large number of trees on the mountains.

I haven’t been able to find information on the specific nature of Choe’s supposed criticism, but one can make some reasonable inferences. As is often the case with central bureaucracies, not least with that of North Korea, management and command at the central level seems out of touch with the reality on the ground. While forestry management authorities, according to news reports, have said that the tree species required to suit local conditions would take up to three years to produce, they have come under strong pressure to meet the planning goals and time frame stipulated by the central government. This problem is classical to planned economies. North Korea, of course, is by no means an exception.

Maybe Choe had pointed out the obvious: fundamentally, Kim’s forestry initiative makes little sense. When Kim says that “Unauthorized felling of trees is tantamount to treachery”, it almost sounds like people continuing to cut down trees to cope and muddle through, as has been done for decades, will be punished much harder in the past.

North Korea’s forest issues embodies many of its other problems. As long as other sources of energy don’t grow drastically, and as long as the leadership doesn’t find a way to better manage its food supply, forests will continue to be destroyed. The forestry policy does not seem feasible in practice, and the policy sequencing is problematic to say the least.

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DPRK pushing forest restoration

Friday, April 10th, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea’s regime has increased the power of the country’s forest management departments to assist in a “greenification” scheme of the barren nation, but the campaign is facing setbacks as central authorities push ahead with planting unsuitable trees despite warnings from local officials, sources said.

Last year, authorities in North Korea launched a campaign of “nationwide greenification,” sources said, with the primary goal of planting trees to replenish soil nutrients and prevent erosion in the country, which has been ravaged by decades of environmental degradation.

As part of the campaign, authorities enlarged the size of state-run tree nurseries and fields for planting seedlings, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently announced that the public should “not lament the denudation of the forests, and organize trees species systematically and economically.”

The central government increased the size of each province’s forest management department, which had formerly been considered a hardship placement because of environmental neglect, and elevated its status to that of other state organs, a source from Yanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Provincial forest management departments have now become popular enough to compete against other organs of power,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Forest planning experts who had not been treated well before are now eligible as provincial committee members,” he said.

As part of the “greenification” campaign, the government significantly increased the supervisory power of the forest management departments, granting them control of tree nurseries and seedling production, sources said.

“This is because Kim Jong Un’s regime needs the agency to not only design forest restoration projects, but also determine how much land should be used, and even what species of trees should be planted on it,” the source said.

The forest management departments soon realized that existing plans, which relied on whatever saplings were available, had to be revamped to incorporate criteria such as species of tree, quality of soil and local climate into the planting process, a source from North Hamgyeong province told RFA.

Tree species requested by the forest management departments to suit their local conditions require at least three years to produce, the source said, but central authorities—eager to meet targets set as part of the “greenification” campaign—are demanding that the planting campaign proceed regardless.

“Even though it will take additional time, [local authorities] have to organize the forest scientifically and systematically, according to the requests of the forest management departments,” he said.

“There are lots of complaints to the forest organizing committees [under the forest management departments] pushing people to plant trees even though the correct species by region have not been produced.”

Barren landscape

According to the Seoul-based Korea Environment Institute, forest cover in North Korea dropped by 17 percent from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

Following the collapse in the early 1990s of the Soviet Union—which provided discounted oil to its communist ally—oil imports into North Korea dropped by more than half, while the use of firewood for heating more than doubled.

The Soviet Union had also provided fertilizer to the North, and when farmers were unable to produce enough food, forest area was cleared to make room for additional farmland.

Only 44.95 percent of North Korea was covered by forest in 2012, according to the World Bank, which says that the area has decreased every year since 2000, when 57.58 of the nation was forested.

Residents of the impoverished country routinely scavenge any organic material they can find for food, fuel or animal food, leaving little that contributes nutrients to the soil.

Without trees to hold the soil, rains frequently lead to flash floods and landslides in the country.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Pushes Ahead With ‘Greenification’ Despite Lack of Suitable Trees
Sung-hui Moon
Radio Free Asia
2015-04-10

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North Korean cabinet adopts forest restoration resolution

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency reported on March 7, 2015 that the North Korean Cabinet has adopted a resolution to support national forest restoration activities.

According to the news agency, the Cabinet recently “announced this decision, which they adopted to fully mobilize the entire party, military, and citizenry in the forest restoration battle.”

The resolution states that the General Bureau of Forestry of the Ministry of Land and Environment Preservation will procure the funds necessary for forest restoration and that the State Planning Committee, General Bureau of Forestry of the Ministry of Land and Environment Preservation, as well as other agencies such as the forestry and agriculture ministries, will draft a concrete plan.

The directive also set up a management system including a supervisory and regulatory task for forest conservation, and it urged for cooperation between county residents and the development of scientific technology in the forestry sector.

In accordance with First Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un’s guidelines, since last year North Korea has repeatedly drawn attention to the precarious state of the country’s forests and has been encouraging tree-planting and nature conservation.

Welcoming ‘Tree-Planting Day’ on March 2, Kim Jong Un also revealed North Korea’s plans to begin an intense forestation restoration campaign. The leader spoke directly regarding this effort, saying, “Forests are a precious resource of our country and a great treasure that we must bequeath to future generations […] However, since the ‘Arduous March,’ people, while saying that they are procuring firewood and provisions, have recklessly damaged our forests, and since the country could not even erect a forest fire prevention measure, our country’s precious forest resources have been greatly reduced.”

In addition, while referencing issues like the drought and damage incurred during the rainy season due to the deforestation, Kim Jong Un emphasized patriotism: “If the country’s forests are not currently beyond repair, they lie at the crossroads of recovery.”

Ordering the complete restoration of forests within 10 years, Kim added that “The entire party, military, and citizenry need to fully engage in a forest restoration battle to make the green forests in the Motherland’s mountains lush.”

Following this, ‘Tree-Planting Day’ was held as an extensive tree-planting event, and Kim Jong Un encouraged the people to plant many saplings in the central tree nursery and regional tree nurseries.

In addition he stressed the importance of the forest conservation work and ordered the supervision and regulation of forest development and conservation through means such as the prohibition of reckless logging, forest fire prevention measures, and the provision of firewood.

On March 2, 2015, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un had given a talk on forestry. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

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North Korea promotes forest development

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The December 4, 2014 issue of the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the (North) Korean Worker’s Party, repeatedly encouraged forest development, calling it a “serious issue to the nation and the people”.

The Rodong Sinmun featured an editorial entitled, “Let’s Mobilize the Party, the Army and the People to Afforest and Garden the Whole Nation,” on its first page, where it emphasized, “Now is the time to consider forest development and protection management businesses as both a serious issue and as the future destiny of the nation and the people. Now is the time for everyone to devote themselves [to this cause].”

The editorial references a remark made by the First Chairman of the National Defense Committee Kim Jong Un during his visit to the Pyongyang Central Tree Nursery, where he said, “There is no bigger crime than not attending to the forests and leaving a shell of an empty mountain for the future generations.” He continued, “Those who plant even just one more tree and tend to them like treasures are the true patriots.”

During his visit to the Central Tree Nursery on November 11, 2014, Kim Jong Un mentioned the many victims of starvation during the economic crisis of the mid-late 1990s: “Forest resources have diminished considerably. The forest was left naked and bare, and now it is too late to turn back.” This is the first time any supreme leader of the DPRK has formally acknowledged the severity of the forest destruction during that period.

With regards to the present reality in North Korea, where mountains account for nearly 80 percent of the nation’s land area, the editorial stated, “As the speed of the construction of a powerful nation grows faster, the portion of the precious forests used to secure raw materials such as lumber, textiles, paper and other ingredients necessary for improving the economy and the lives of the people greatly increases.” The editorial also mentioned the recent sustained flooding and severe droughts, emphasizing the desperate need to build up forests in order to protect against natural environmental damage.

The editorial also presented detailed methods of afforestation, adding that “Trees, which grow quickly and have large economic utility value, should be planted on terraces in large quantities so that their benefits may be reaped even one day sooner.”

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly established the “Korean Green Sponsorship Fund” last October in order to fund research and development on green energy, resource recycling and organic farming techniques.

North Korea’s governmental news agency, the KCNA, said in a report on December 4: “The fund established last October has made it its mission to raise social awareness and contribute to green development through the representative organizations currently pursuing R&D in green energy, recycling, green food and organic farming techniques.”

North Korea made it clear that they will not discriminate between donors’ type of donation or content, nor will it discriminate against race, ethnicity, political view or the religion of donors. It also affirmed that it will reinforce close ties and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and individual persons who wish to donate from all over the world.

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Deforestation: Stats, costs and attempted remedies

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

First the bad news. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has destroyed forests about 18 times the size of Manhattan for more than 10 years, data showed Tuesday, in the latest sign of deforestation in the communist country.

Global Forest Watch, which is run by the Washington-based World Resources Institute, said on its website that a total of 160,515 hectares of forest were destroyed between 2000 and 2013.

It also said North Korea created 13,680 hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012.

The development illustrates the rapid deforestation in North Korea as people cut down trees for fuel and turn forests into farmland to grow more food.

Experts have said severe deforestation is one of the reasons behind devastating floods that hit North Korea in recent years.

North Korea’s total forest area stood at 5.2 million hectares, with its output estimated at US$300 million as of 2006, or 2.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

You can see a visualization of the DPRK’s deforestation with Global forest Watch here.

Of course the problem is the a classic “tragedy of the commons“.

And according to the Donga Ilbo:

According to the Korea Forest Service’s report on the “cost for reforestation in North Korea” that the Dong-A Ilbo obtained on Tuesday, as of 2008 deforested mountains accounted for 32 percent of the total land of North Korea, about 2.84 million hectares. To restore the area, about 32 trillion won (about 30 billion dollars) is estimated to be required.

Deforestation is proceeding at a rapid pace in North Korea. It appears even faster in areas with high population density. The Korea Forest Research Institute has recently analyzed photos taken by a German commercial satellite and found deforestation progressed in North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Gaesong more rapidly than rural areas of Hyesan and Bongsan over the same period of time. The institute concluded that such discrepancy is cause by reckless lumbering and reclamation in urban areas. Besides, some reclaimed lands are not used for cultivation and just wasted because of the spread of crop theft, further exacerbating deforestation. In this regard, many argue that reforestation in North Korea should be beyond planting trees and in line with measures for food, fuels and income.

The Donga Ilbo also reports that an organization called the Green Asia Organization has been created to try and help resolve the problem:

Private organizations of South Korea, North Korea and China have started to make systematic efforts to reforest bare mountains in North Korea. The Green Asia Organization, which seeks to grow trees in mountains and nurture forest farmers at the same time, is to be launched and hold an international symposium on “international cooperation measures for reforestation on the Korean Peninsula” on Wednesday.

The organization is established based on the understanding that reforestation of North Korea costs trillions of won (billions of U.S. dollars) now and the cost will increase even further as time goes. Deforestation in North Korea not only directly affects the ecosystem of South Korea but also increases the cost for reunification. Besides, it can evolve into a more serious environmental issue in East Asia.

This organization does not have an English-language web page (or any at all as far as I can tell). If you are able to find out more about this group, please let me know.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea destroyed forests about 18 times the size of Manhattan
Yonhap
2014-3-18

Reforestation of N. Korea is precedent for ‘Green Reunification’
Donga Ilbo
2014-3-19

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