N. Korea, Switzerland try new bank program to help N.K.’s farmers


Years of efforts to cultivate North Korea’s mountainous farmland is beginning to yield results, and Swiss and Korean officials are testing a bank credit program for the farmers in the Asian country, a Swiss aid office said on Sunday.

North Korea is showing “many promising signs of changes in progress,” including the emergence of consumer markets that are now established as part of the country’s economic system, Adrian Schlapfer, assistant director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), said on the agency’s Web site.

Schlapfer was comparing the current situation to that during his previous visit to Pyongyang four years ago.

“The farming land in which the starving people started to work back then is now recognized as providing scope for agricultural initiative,” he wrote.

“The SDC, together with North Korea’s Central Bank, is therefore in the process of testing a micro-credit program to encourage farmers to base their investment decisions on economic feasibility considerations — an innovation for North Korea,” he said.

But North Korea still suffers from food scarcity, and aid is still essential, he said.

The SDC, an agency of the Swiss Foreign Ministry, has maintained an office in Pyongyang since 1997, focusing on agricultural programs to improve food production and on supporting domestic reform. The Swiss government started providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea in 1995.

Schlapfer described North Korea as the most little-known and enigmatic partner of the SDC, and acknowledged there are constant doubts on whether Swiss engagement there will yield results.

“Are there any meaningful approaches for long-term development partnership in this country with its planned economy, backwardness and secretiveness? Given the context, is it at all possible to initiate change?” he asked.

Pyongyang is “not an easy partner,” he said. “The key values, priorities and methods of Switzerland’s development cooperation have to be repeatedly insisted upon.”

“However, the projects implemented over the past 12 years are encouraging,” Schlapfer added.


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