Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category

South Korean officials in North Korea for joint forest inspection

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports:

A group of South Korean officials left for North Korea on Wednesday to conduct a joint inspection of forests and protect trees from harmful insects and diseases, the unification ministry said.

The officials led by a senior forest agency policymaker crossed into Mount Kumgang on the North’s east coast, where they will jointly examine the forests there, according to the ministry.

They will return home later in the afternoon.

The one-day trip follows up on the agreement reached during working-level inter-Korean talks early last month for forestry cooperation.

They agreed to cooperate in protecting forests along the inter-Korean border and in other areas from damage caused by harmful insects and diseases.

The two Koreas conducted a similar on-site inspection in July 2015 near Mount Kumgang. Two months later, they carried out efforts to fight insects and other damage, which was said to have cost them over 100 million won (US$89,400).

Meanwhile, the North will send six transport officials to the South on Thursday to hold a meeting and discuss details related to their cooperation in modernizing and possibly connecting railways over their border, the ministry said.

The meeting, the second of its kind, will be held at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) office in Paju, just south of the inter-Korean border.

It came after their first meeting in Kaesong last month to discuss the outcome of an inspection of the conditions of the 15.3 kilometer-long railways from the North’s border town to the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that separates the two Koreas.

Article source:
S. Korean officials visit N. Korea for joint inspection of forests
Yonhap News
2018-08-08

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Reforestation in North Korea

Monday, March 19th, 2018

One of the most striking differences between North and South Korea on satellite imagery is the observable difference in forest coverage. By the end of the Korean War, the entire peninsula had experienced severe deforestation. To repair the damage to the environment, South Korea launched a massive re-forestation campaign in the 1960s and 1970s (check out this South Korean propaganda video that looks like it was made in North Korea).

In the DPRK, “Tree Planting Day” was reportedly established on March 2, 1946 (KCNA made a note of it a couple of weeks ago, as it does every year). But although lip service has always been paid to reforestation, implementation seems to have always taken a back seat to other priorities (both official and unofficial) such as food self-sufficiency, mitigating famine, mitigating a shortage of heating fuel, and the need for hard currency (exported timber).

Kim Jong-il’s record on forestation seems rather limited. Despite “Tree Planting Day” and numerous annual campaigns to spruce up parks and revolutionary sites, he only visited the Central Tree Nursery twice of which I am aware (2009-10-2 and 2011-10-9) towards the end of his life. The nursery, however, did see some growth in the last years of his leadership:

The day after KJI’s visit to the tree farm in 2011, KCNA reported that work was being done at provincial level to promote reforestation (2011-2-10):

Provincial tree nurseries are being updated into bases for the mass production of saplings of good species.

The nursery in Pyongyang built a room for disseminating science and technology and the production process of the paper humus-pot equipped with modern facilities.

The nursery of South Phyongan Province newly made tall sapling production base covering at least 100 hectares and built the humus-pot production base. It is cultivating more than 800,000 saplings of dozens of species.

The nursery of North Phyongan Province completed nine construction projects including the 100-odd square meter grinding and mixing ground.

Jagang Province is pushing ahead with the construction of the nursery of the province with a humus-pot factory of hundreds of square meters, greenhouse, hostel and other public service facilities at the final stage.

The advanced sapling production technology has been introduced to cities and counties across the country.

Hundreds of millions of trees were planted in mountains of the country during the period of national mobilization for improving land administration in spring this year.

Kim Jong-un, however, has placed a high priority on reforestation. Here is an article from the March 2018 issue of Korea Magazine:

I have identified nearly 400 new tree farms and forest management stations that have been built in the DPRK since Kim Jong-un took over as leader. These facilities have been regularly featured in the official media. The effort appears to be driven by the Forestry Bureau (산림총국) under the Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection (국토환경보호성), however, the military is playing a significant role as well. The largest tree farms of which I am aware are the Central Tree Nursery (pictured above), Kangwon Provincial Tree Farm, and the Tree Nursery 122 of the KPA.

Despite the obvious proliferation of tree farms and tree planting, I could not remember coming across any significant satellite imagery showing successful reforestation projects taking root (pun intended)—until now. Pictured below is a satellite image of the area south of the town of Singye in North Hwanghae Province that contains evidence of at least five reforestation sites:

Site 1 (38.480039°, 126.524338°): Image date (Top): 2014-3-20, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29


Area 2 (38.477669°, 126.537321°): Image date (Top): 2007-10-4, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29


Area 3 (38.487852°, 126.541397°): Image date (Top): 2015-8-16, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29


Area 4 (38.495523°, 126.554775°): Image date (Top): 2012-11-8, Image Date (Bottom): 2017-11-29


Area 5 (38.493341°, 126.541830°): Image date (Top): 2007-10-4, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29


Some analysis and implications: These reforestation projects are probably not the only ones in the area, they just met the minimum standard of proof to show there was an active reforestation project going on in Singye. There are no doubt many more like this throughout the country, though I have not looked to see how other areas compare. This is the first time I remember noticing on Google Earth that forest cover was growing in North Korea in any significant way (They have also been planting trees along the railroad tracks for several years, but that is not reforestation).

All of these projects are on hills, and this makes sense from a forestry perspective (keep the mountains from eroding into the riverbeds). However, in North Korea many of the hillsides are being used for agriculture. In the images above it is unclear if the hillside plots are under the purview of cooperative farm production quotas, or if they are one of several kinds of “private plots” that farmers use to supplement their diets/income. Either way, the growth of forest cover means a reduction in farm-able land, and this is likely going to have some significant effects on land allocation politics at the local level.

As forest cover grows under the national plan, cooperative farms will have to reallocate a smaller number of land parcels among a fixed number of workers. If the forests grow to reclaim land from private plots, farmers who had grown accustomed to their hillside property will have to figure out how to share remaining land with their neighbors, or move to another location. I imagine both of these processes can get messy, and perhaps the reforestation project is receiving mixed reviews at the local level (depending on its effects on individual farmers).

This forestation policy also raises questions with regards to food supply and the growth of the informal economy in North Korea, but these questions are beyond the scope of this humble blog post. Maybe later…

NOTE: I have published some of the blog post below in Radio Free Asia (in Korean) here. The RFA article contains additional reporting that is not part of this blog post, and some of the information in this blog post may not be in the RFA article.

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Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year address

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Below I have posted the economic section of Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year speech in English and Korean:

Comrades,

동지들!

This year we will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the glorious Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. To mark the 70th anniversary of their state with splendour is of real significance for the great people, who have raised with dignity the status of their socialist country, the greatest patriotic legacy of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, to that of a strategic state recognized by the world. [Translation note: In the Korean version below, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are not mentioned by name, only by title]

올해에 우리는 영광스러운 조선민주주의인민공화국창건 일흔돐을 맞이하게 됩니다.위대한 수령님과 위대한 장군님의 최대의 애국유산인 사회주의 우리 국가를 세계가 공인하는 전략국가의 지위에 당당히 올려세운 위대한 인민이 자기 국가의 창건 일흔돐을 성대히 기념하게 되는것은 참으로 의의깊은 일입니다.

We should make constant innovations and continued progress until we win the final victory of the revolution by carrying on the tradition of heroic struggle and collective innovation which adorned the founding and course of development of Juche Korea. A revolutionary general offensive should be launched to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country by taking the historic victory in the building of the DPRK’s nuclear forces as a springboard for fresh progress.

우리는 주체조선의 건국과 발전행로에 빛나는 영웅적투쟁과 집단적혁신의 전통을 이어 혁명의 최후승리를 이룩할 때까지 계속혁신,계속전진해나가야 합니다.공화국핵무력건설에서 이룩한 력사적승리를 새로운 발전의 도약대로 삼고 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하기 위한 혁명적인 총공세를 벌려나가야 합니다.

“Let us launch a revolutionary general offensive to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country!” This is the revolutionary slogan we should uphold. All officials, Party members and other working people should launch an all-people general offensive to frustrate the challenges of the hostile forces who are making last-ditch efforts and raise the overall strength of our Republic to a new stage of development as they brought about a great upsurge in socialist construction overcoming all difficulties through the great Chollima upswing after the war.

《혁명적인 총공세로 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하자!》 이것이 우리가 들고나가야 할 혁명적구호입니다.모든 일군들과 당원들과 근로자들은 전후 천리마대고조로 난국을 뚫고 사회주의건설에서 일대 앙양을 일으킨것처럼 전인민적인 총공세를 벌려 최후발악하는 적대세력들의 도전을 짓부시고 공화국의 전반적국력을 새로운 발전단계에 올려세워야 합니다.

A breakthrough should be made in reenergizing the overall economic front this year, the third year of implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development.

국가경제발전 5개년전략수행의 세번째 해인 올해에 경제전선전반에서 활성화의 돌파구를 열어제껴야 하겠습니다.

The central task facing socialist economic construction this year is to enhance the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improve the people’s standard of living as required by the revolutionary counter-strategy put forward by the Second Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party.

올해 사회주의경제건설에서 나서는 중심과업은 당중앙위원회 제7기 제2차전원회의가 제시한 혁명적대응전략의 요구대로 인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하고 인민생활을 개선향상시키는것입니다.

We should concentrate all efforts on consolidating the independence and Juche character of the national economy.

인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하는데 총력을 집중하여야 합니다.

The electric-power industry should maintain and reinforce the self-supporting power generation bases, and direct a great deal of efforts to developing new power sources. A dynamic campaign should be conducted to drastically increase thermal power generation, and lower the loss of electric power and increase its production as much as possible by maintaining and reinforcing imperfect generating facilitates. Provinces should build power generation bases to suit their local features and put power generation at the existing medium and small-sized power stations on a normal footing to satisfy the needs of electric power for local industry by themselves. Alternated production should be organized scrupulously throughout the country, and a vigorous struggle waged against the practices of wasting electric power to make effective use of generated electric power.

전력공업부문에서는 자립적동력기지들을 정비보강하고 새로운 동력자원개발에 큰 힘을 넣어야 합니다.화력에 의한 전력생산을 결정적으로 늘이며 불비한 발전설비들을 정비보강하여 전력손실을 줄이고 최대한 증산하기 위한 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려야 합니다.도들에서 자기 지방의 특성에 맞는 전력생산기지들을 일떠세우며 이미 건설된 중소형수력발전소들에서 전력생산을 정상화하여 지방공업부문의 전력을 자체로 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.전국가적인 교차생산조직을 짜고들며 전력랑비현상과의 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 생산된 전력을 효과적으로 리용하기 위한 된바람을 일으키도록 하여야 합니다.

The metallurgical industry should further improve the Juche-oriented iron- and steel-making technologies, increase the iron production capacity and drastically raise the quality of metallic materials in order to satisfy the needs of the national economy for iron and steel. It is necessary to ensure a preferential, planned and timely supply of electricity, concentrated iron ore, anthracite, lignite, freight wagons, locomotives and funds for the metallurgical industry. By doing so, we can fulfil next year’s iron and steel production plans and make the industry Juche-oriented without fail.

금속공업부문에서는 주체적인 제철,제강기술을 더욱 완성하고 철생산능력을 확장하며 금속재료의 질을 결정적으로 높여 인민경제의 철강재수요를 충족시켜야 합니다.금속공업부문에 필요한 전력,철정광,무연탄,갈탄,화차와 기관차,자금을 다른 부문에 앞세워 계획대로 어김없이 보장하여 다음해 철강재생산목표를 무조건 수행하며 금속공업의 주체화를 기어이 완성하도록 하여야 하겠습니다.

The chemical industry should step up the establishment of the C1 chemical industry, push the projects for catalyst production base and phosphatic fertilizer factory as scheduled, and renovate and perfect the sodium carbonate production line whose starting material is glauberite.

화학공업부문에서 탄소하나화학공업창설을 다그치고 촉매생산기지와 린비료공장건설을 계획대로 추진하며 회망초를 출발원료로 하는 탄산소다생산공정을 개건완비하여야 합니다.

The machine-building industry should modernize the Kumsong Tractor Factory, Sungri Motor Complex and other factories to develop and produce world-level machinery in our style.

기계공업부문에서는 금성뜨락또르공장과 승리자동차련합기업소를 비롯한 기계공장들을 현대화하고 세계적수준의 기계제품들을 우리 식으로 개발생산하여야 합니다.

The coal and mineral production and rail transport sectors should make concerted efforts to make the country’s self-reliant economic foundations prove their effectiveness.

나라의 자립적경제토대가 은을 낼수 있게 석탄과 광물생산,철도수송에서 련대적혁신을 일으켜야 합니다.

Notably, the rail transport sector should make the best use of the existing transport capacity by making transport organization and control more scientific and rational, and maintain discipline and order in the railways as rigid as in the army, so as to ensure an accident-free, on-schedule rail traffic.

특히 철도운수부문에서 수송조직과 지휘를 과학화,합리화하여 현존수송능력을 최대한 효과있게 리용하며 철도에 군대와 같은 강한 규률과 질서를 세워 렬차의 무사고정시운행을 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.

A turn should be brought about this year in improving the people’s standard of living.

올해에 인민생활향상에서 전환을 가져와야 합니다.

Light-industry factories need to transform their equipment and production lines into labour- and electricity-saving ones and produce and supply more diversified and quality consumer goods with domestic raw and other materials, and provinces, cities and counties should develop the local economy in a characteristic way by relying on their own raw material resources.

경공업공장들의 설비와 생산공정을 로력절약형,전기절약형으로 개조하고 국내원료와 자재로 다양하고 질좋은 소비품들을 더 많이 생산공급하며 도,시,군들에서 자체의 원료원천에 의거하여 지방경제를 특색있게 발전시켜야 합니다.

The agricultural and fishing fronts should effect an upswing. We should introduce seeds of superior strains, high-yield farming methods and high-performance farm machines on an extensive scale, do farming scientifically and technologically so as to fulfil the cereals production plan without fail, and boost the production of livestock products, fruits, greenhouse vegetables and mushrooms. We should enhance our ship building and repair capacities, launch scientific fishing campaigns, and reenergize aquatic farming.

농업과 수산전선에서 앙양을 일으켜야 하겠습니다.우량종자와 다수확농법,능률적인 농기계들을 대대적으로 받아들이고 농사를 과학기술적으로 지어 알곡생산목표를 반드시 점령하며 축산물과 과일,온실남새와 버섯생산을 늘여야 합니다.배무이와 배수리능력을 높이고 과학적인 어로전을 전개하며 양어와 양식을 활성화하여야 하겠습니다.

This year the service personnel and people should join efforts to complete the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in the shortest period of time, push ahead with major construction projects including the renovation of Samjiyon County, the construction of the Tanchon Power Station and the second-stage waterway project of South Hwanghae Province, and channel steady efforts into the construction of houses.

올해에 군민이 힘을 합쳐 원산갈마해안관광지구건설을 최단기간내에 완공하고 삼지연군꾸리기와 단천발전소건설,황해남도물길 2단계 공사를 비롯한 중요대상건설을 다그치며 살림집건설에 계속 힘을 넣어야 합니다.

Building on the success we achieved in the forest restoration campaign, we should properly protect and manage the forests that have already been created, improve the technical conditions of roads, conduct river improvement on a regular basis, and protect environment in a scientific and responsible manner.

산림복구전투성과를 더욱 확대하면서 이미 조성된 산림에 대한 보호관리를 잘하는것과 함께 도로의 기술상태를 개선하고 강하천정리를 정상화하며 환경보호사업을 과학적으로,책임적으로 하여야 합니다.

Every sector and every unit of the national economy should enlist their own technical forces and economic potential to the maximum and launch a dynamic struggle to increase production and practise economy, so as to create a greater amount of material wealth.

인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 자체의 기술력량과 경제적잠재력을 총동원하고 증산절약투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 더 많은 물질적재부를 창조하여야 합니다.

A shortcut to developing the self-sufficient economy is to give precedence to science and technology and make innovations in economic planning and guidance.

자립경제발전의 지름길은 과학기술을 앞세우고 경제작전과 지휘를 혁신하는데 있습니다.

The scientific research sector should solve on a preferential basis the scientific and technological problems arising in establishing Juche-oriented production lines of our own style, ensuring domestic production of raw and other materials and equipment, and perfecting the structure of the self-supporting economy. Every sector and every unit of the national economy should make a contribution to achieving production growth by intensifying the dissemination of science and technology and waging a brisk technological innovation drive.

과학연구부문에서는 우리 식의 주체적인 생산공정들을 확립하고 원료와 자재,설비를 국산화하며 자립적경제구조를 완비하는데서 제기되는 과학기술적문제들을 우선적으로 풀어나가야 합니다.인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 과학기술보급사업을 강화하며 기술혁신운동을 활발히 벌려 생산장성에 이바지하여야 하겠습니다.

The Cabinet and other economic guidance organs should work out a realistic operational plan to carry out the national economic plan for this year and push forward the work for its implementation responsibly and persistently. Positive measures should be taken by the state to ensure that the socialist system of responsible business operation proves its worth in factories, enterprises and cooperative organizations.

내각을 비롯한 경제지도기관들은 올해 인민경제계획을 수행하기 위한 작전안을 현실성있게 세우며 그 집행을 위한 사업을 책임적으로 완강하게 내밀어야 합니다.국가적으로 사회주의기업책임관리제가 공장,기업소,협동단체들에서 실지 은을 낼수 있도록 적극적인 대책을 세워야 합니다.

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The problem with the Red Cross narrative of North Korea’s floods

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I had originally intended to use this post solely to encourage readers to check out this story by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia Pacific. But as I was reading through the story, I realized there are several issues with it that need to be pointed out. It offers a comprehensive narrative of this year’s flooding in northern North Korea, which has devastated parts of North Hamgyong province. The photographs add a crucial human dimension to the ghastly figures for the damage. But unfortunately, the IFRC casts blame in all the wrong directions and fails to point out the core of the problem.

First, the key passages of the piece:

On August 29 the rains began. They continued for the next two days, swelling the Tumen river as it coursed along the northeast border of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  The heavy downpour was a consequence of the tail end of Typhoon Lionrock which had collided with a low pressure weather front as it tracked across China.  In just 24 hours up to 300 mm of rain fell over parts of DPRK’s North Hamgyong Province.

Streams of water flowed down barren mountains. They merged in ravines to become raging torrents of water – flash floods – which carved through rural communities in the valleys below, demolishing everything in their path.  The River Tumen also burst its banks, swallowing entire settlements in the dead of night.

The floods are considered to be the worst in decades yet this has been a silent disaster, largely unnoticed outside DPRK.  Hundreds of lives have been lost and the scale of devastation has been immense.

Now, one month on, the full extent of what happened is still emerging. According to the government some 30,000 homes have been damaged, submerged or completely destroyed and 70,000 people rendered homeless.

[…]

For days villages across Musan and Yonson Counties remained cut off as thousands of rescuers were mobilised to the area to repair roads and bridges and remove the earth and rocks deposited by landslides.

In the Sambong Bo area of Musan County,  the water level of the River Tumen had risen by over four metres in a matter of hours. When it broke its banks 500 homes were swept away.  At least 20 other communities further along the river suffered the same fate. It is still not clear how many died.

Reaching the flood-affected area requires a three-day drive from the capital Pyongyang but it only took 24 hours for the DPRK Red Cross to mobilize over 1,000 of its volunteers from the area to respond to the disaster. They supported local authorities in search and rescue efforts and also provided first aid services to the injured. Trained disaster response teams were deployed and within days emergency relief supplies for 28,000 people had been released from the Red Cross regional disaster preparedness stocks which were stored in warehouses in South Hamgyong and Pyongyang.

Items such as tarpaulins, tents and tools to make emergency shelters were distributed to flood-affected families. People also received other essentials such as warm bedding, kitchen sets, water containers and toiletries.

[…]

But there are other vulnerabilities. According to the UN, North Hamgyong Province has some of the highest levels of stunting and wasting among under five children. The Public Distribution System, upon which 78 per cent of the population of the province relies, is well below target levels (300 grams compared to the target of 573 grams) and not sufficiently diverse to cover nutritional requirements.

The floods damaged over 27,000 hectares of arable land. The rice and corn were ready to be harvested but now, many families’ food has been washed away along with crops, livestock and food gardens.

To make matters worse, more than 45 health clinics have been damaged by floodwaters and there is a critical shortage of basic equipment and essential medicines. Water supply to 600,000 people across the province has been disrupted and for clean water, some communities are now dependent on a few hand pumps and dug wells, which are most likely contaminated by the floods.

On 21 September, the IFRC launched a 15.2 million Swiss Francs emergency appeal (USD 15.5 million, Euros 13.9 million) to reach more than 330,000 people affected by the floods.

The appeal aims to provide a variety of emergency assistance over the next 12 months. Emergency water supply will be installed and teams will be mobilised to avert communicable diseases by improving sanitation and promoting good hygiene. Medical supplies will be provided for health teams on the ground and technical support provided to help with the reconstruction of permanent homes.

The appeal will also be used to purchase winterization kits that will help thousands of families through the hardship of the coming months. These include supplies of coal for heating and cooking, toiletries, winter clothes and quilts, basic food stocks and water purification tablets.

But according to Chris Staines international help needs to scale up.

“This is a disaster on a scale that that no-one seems to have acknowledged. When you add up all the threats that people are facing today in DPRK there is a very real risk of a secondary disaster unfolding in the months ahead if we don’t get the help that is needed immediately”.

Full article here:
Suffering in Silence
IFRC Asia
Shorthand Social
2016-09-29

Undoubtedly, this is a tragedy on a scale that is difficult to fathom even with the accompanying pictures of some of the devastation. Readers who wish to donate to the IFRC disaster relief efforts can do so here.

But the narrative lacks a crucial component, namely the government’s responsibility in disaster management and prevention, and the connection between the economic system and North Korea’s recurring floods. Now, readers familiar with the North Korean NGO context will be well aware that this is a sensitive political topic that NGOs and aid organizations are often reluctant to discuss, for good reasons. They depend on maintaining good relations with the North Korean government in order to continue operating in the country, and these relations are sensitive at best.

That said, the way in which the IFRC narrative seems to fault only one party — the international community, for not giving the disaster more attention — is strange, to say the least. For it is not the international community that has created the systemic deficiencies that contribute to making floods a yearly recurring phenomenon. Rain clouds do not gather only over North Korea. Anyone who has spent late summer and fall in South Korea will be familiar with the torrential rains that sweep across the country on the same regular basis that they hit North Korea. And yet, we never hear about human suffering and disasters in South Korea on an even comparable level with those that hit North Korea. Some landslides tend to happen, and sometimes the rains even claim lives. But they do not paralyze whole regions of the country and they do not cause humanitarian disasters on the southern side of the border.

The reasons that North Korea is hit with such particularly great damage from the rains, year after year, largely stem from its economic system. To name only a couple of examples: trees have been felled en masse due to a lack of fuel, causing erosion as not enough trees are left to suck up the rainwater, and the population has had to resort to clearing hills from trees to generate more farmland, particularly during the “Arduous March” of the 1990s. Moreover, in command economies, quotas for both wood and food need to be filled no matter what methods have to be employed — I am unable to find a source for the historical evolution of tree felling in North Korea prior to the 1990s, but most likely, such a logic has also contributed to the barren hillsides around the country. To be fair, Kim Jong-un has focused a great deal of attention on reforestation, which is arguably one of the most important but least noted policy focuses during his tenure. But thus far, not much seems to have happened in practice.

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

So: on the one hand, the IFRC may well be right that coverage of North Korea’s humanitarian disaster should render more media coverage. But on the other hand the late summer floods are such a regular occurrence that they should hardly count as news anymore. NGOs and aid organizations need to air on the side of political caution in their dealings with the North Korean regime, but their failure to call out the government for not rectifying the problems causing the damage in the first place may well be doing more harm than good in the long run.

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North Korean reforestation in practice

Friday, April 8th, 2016

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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Deforestation in North Korea continues, new data shows

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yesterday I stumbled upon a nice interactive World Bank data map that shows where forests have been lost and gained since the 1990s. Forestry is one of those rare areas where fairly extensive data exists for North Korea. Of course, all data has its faults and flaws, and figures on North Korea should always be taken with a grain of salt. But even if the figures aren’t fully correct to the last decimal, they show an interesting trend.

The World Bank World Development Indicators figures seem to be coming from the Forest and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Global Forest Resource Assessment, and their latest study of global forestry assets was done just last year (2015). Using these figures, I created a graph showing North Korea’s forestry area (in blue), using South Korea as a baseline comparison.

forestry DPRK ROK smaller

Data source: World Bank World Development Indicators. Graph created by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein.

Deforestation is far from a new problem in North Korea. What’s interesting is that it appears to continue without signs of abating.

This data stretches all the way to 2015. According to one estimate, North Korean forests shrank by about 17 percent between 1970 and 1990. By the end of 2008, the United Nations estimated that around one third of all forests had been lost in North Korea. If the World Bank data is accurate, it suggests that this trend has continued exponentially, and that the situation has continued to worsen. According to the World Bank data, North Korea lost almost 40 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2015.

As this blog has laid out before, the cycle of problems is well known: people essentially cut down trees as a form of coping behavior in the face of resource scarcity, in order to clear areas for farmland, and to use wood as an energy source. When the annual torrential rains sweep over the Korean peninsula, the lack of trees contributes to soil erosion, spoiling harvests and causing devastation. Kim Jong-un highlighted forestry as an important policy area in 2015. The priority makes a lot of sense, but so far, the solutions don’t seem all that promising.

North Korea celebrated a “Tree Planting Day” about three weeks ago, and the Russian embassy in Pyongyang participated in the celebrations. Their pictures (see this link for their Facebook album) give an interesting snapshot of how it might look across the country as the regime’s tree planting drive unfolds:

A North Korean forestry official (?) giving instructions about tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

A North Korean forestry official (?) giving instructions about tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

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The Russian ambassador and a young North Korean planting a tree together. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

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Young North Korean men in Red Cross (적십자) vests lining up for tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Young North Koreans listening to tree planting instructions. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions for how to plant and tend to trees. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

Instructions for how to plant and tend to trees. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday fun with North Korea’s new slogans

Friday, February 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What better way to start off the weekend than to go through North Korea’s latest batch of political slogans (“Joint calls/공동구호”)? These were issued collectively by the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission on Wednesday February 17th, and printed on the frontpage of Rodong Sinmunas part of the run-up to the 7th Party Congress to be held later this year.

Below I have gathered those that relate to the economy, and a few other interesting ones, with brief annotation:

The calls underlined the need to make hurrah for the WPK and socialism resound far more loudly this year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is to be held by staging an all-out death-defying struggle for building a thriving nation and improving the people’s living standard.

The Byungjin line is alive and well.

Let’s dynamically wage this year’s general advance in the same spirit as shown in succeeding in the H-bomb test!

Let’s build an economic giant as early as possible with the strength and the spirit of Korea and at the Korean speed!

Send more satellites of Juche Korea into space!

As often before, the satellite launch and the hydrogen bomb test are tied into the theme of economic development: both are technological advancements, showing the overall progress of the economy.

Produce more new-generation electric locomotives and passenger cars!

A shout-out to the domestic car industry?

Put the manufacture of Korean-style world-class underground trains on a serial basis!

The domestically manufactured subway cars haven’t been forgotten. One wonders if people living outside Pyongyang feel as strongly about them.

Step up the modernization of the mining industry and keep the production of nonferrous metal and non-metallic minerals going at a high rate!

Provide more resources for building an economic giant by channeling effort into prospecting underground resources!

At least now Jang Song-taek can’t touch them anymore.

Make the foreign trade multilateral and diverse!

This is interesting, and a clear statement about an important rationale for the SEZs: North Korea will remain politically and economically vulnerable as long as China continues to be its single largest trading partner by a large margin.

Let’s greet the 7th Party Congress with proud achievements in the improvement of the people’s living standard!

The people “will never have to tighten their belts again”, as Kim Jong-un said in his first public speech in 2012.

Achieve a great victory on the front of agriculture this year!

Which the regime has already claimed it did last year. The UN doesn’t agree.

Let’s give a decisive solution to the problem of consumer goods!

Let’s produce more world-competitive famous products and goods!

North Korean media has highlighted strides in consumer goods production several times this year.

Make Wonsan area an icon of city layout and build it into a world-level tourist city!

A shout-out to the Wonsan tourist zone, presumably.

Establish Korean-style economic management method guided by the Juche idea in a comprehensive manner!

Sounds like the management reforms, with greater autonomy for enterprises, are still on the table.

Let the entire party and army and all the people turn out in the forest restoration campaign!

And make sure they “properly conduct fertilizer management“. This is the only reference among the slogans to the forestry campaign, where the regime has publically acknowledged some crucial and systemic problems, but is yet to find a credible solution.

Put an end to proclivity to import!

Does this tell us something about North Korea’s trade balance that the numbers aren’t showing?

The Korean People’s Internal Security Forces should sharpen the sword for defending their leader, system and people!

Note that “people” comes after both “leader” and “system”.

Let us thoroughly implement our Party’s policy of putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

Develop and produce a greater number of various means of military strike of our own style that are capable of overwhelming the enemy!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

These four slogans seem to be saying that the Four Military Guidelines, adopted in 1962 by the Central Committee, are still very much in play: 1) arming the population, 2) fortifying the country, 3) establishing a cadre-based army, and 4) modernizing military equipment. Mao would probably have been happy to know that his People’s War Doctrine lives on in North Korea.

The whole list of slogans is very long, and saying that policy areas need to improve, or that production in a certain area needs to go up, isn’t much of a policy line. Still, it’s interesting to see what areas are highlighted.

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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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