Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category

Russian logging jobs on the wane?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011


Pictured Above (Google Earth): Tynda Logging Camp in Russia. See in Google Maps here.


According to the Daily NK:

Kim, a defector who arrived in South Korea in 2008 after working for 30 years in the North Korean forestry sector, explained to The Daily NK on the 5th, “North Korea’s operations in Russia are now just enough to send timber to North Korea on the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il; they provide little real benefit in terms of foreign currency earning.”

In essence, Kim went on, “North Korea is just running the Forestry Mission to maintain its relationship with Russia.”

Following a 1967 agreement between the two countries, logging has at times played a key role in North Korea’s hard currency earning efforts, with more than 20,000 North Korean laborers being involved in forestry operations in Russia by the start of the 1990s.

Under the agreement, Russia agreed to provide the trees, equipment and power, while North Korea would provide the labor, and both countries shared the timber.

However, the deal is no longer beneficial to the North Korean state, as Kim explained in more detail, saying, “At the moment, Russia takes 72% and North Korea 28% of what is felled by these North Korean laborers, but most of the money North Korea earns from selling it on to Chinese trade companies goes on the laborers’ wages, accommodation, food and administration of the Forestry Mission. Now that Russia is a market economy with constantly rising prices, there is hardly any hard currency left to send back to the North Korean authorities.”

“Recently, China has been offering the Russians more money for these felling operations, so the North Korean laborers have no choice but to go home,” Kim added, continuing, “In addition, the scale of the workforce and operations has been decreasing recently partly because those groups of workers who protest about wage delays and whatever else are all dispatched back to North Korea.”

“In the past there used to be trade missions in Tynda and Khabarovsk, but now they is only the one in Tynda, with seven logging businesses underneath it,” he said. “The Khabarovsk trade mission has recently been closed down, and there are now a total of just nine logging operations underway in all of Russia.”

The numbers of loggers has shrunk to “4,000 in Khabarovsk and 2,000 in other remote areas; a total that does not exceed 6,000,” Kim stated.

Even the remaining forestry mission in Tynda is not large, with a president, chief engineer and vice-director working in parallel with a Party chief secretary, organizational secretary and propaganda secretary. Although each secretary has two or three workers under him, even with the National Security Agency staff that keeps tabs on the activities of the workers included in the total, the mission remains small.

Elsewhere, however, there are actually tens of thousands of North Korean laborers in Russia working in fields including construction, agriculture and mining, including around 30% of the 6,000 nominally said to be involved in logging.

The activities of military-run enterprises are on the increase, too. Kim explained, “Following cooperation between the Russian Air Force and the North Korean Air Force Command, there are now farming operations going on around air fields. If you include the General Reconnaissance Bureau, North Korea has sent at least a few tens of thousands of people to Russia.”

Given the ever increasing number of laborers running away from their assigned workplaces, Kim speculated there could also be as many as 600 or more defectors residing in Russia.

“In 2006 the Ministry of Forestry sent some cadres all over Russia to try and lure defectors back home, but these people had grown accustomed to living in Russia and nobody listened. There were 598 at that time, so it’s probably even higher by now,” Kim said.

One other key reason why North Korea has been unsuccessful in its attempts to retrieve the defectors is that the Russian authorities take a sympathetic view of their plight. According to Kim, “Russia does not forcibly repatriate defectors in the same way as China, so they are able to marry and work there. The Russian police have been treating defectors as humanitarian refugees since 2005, aware that forcibly repatriated defectors risk public execution and that their families face punishment, too.”

Naturally though, surveillance and control of the laborers is as severe as it has always been at the logging sites. Every week the workers are forced to participate in Party-led activities including mutual criticism sessions. The authorities are trying to limit the number of defectors by encouraging them to spy on one another, and the NSA has an intricate system of investigation to maintain order. Nevertheless, workers are sufficiently unhappy with their situation that defections continue to occur.

According to the Russians, there were 32,000 North Koreans working in the country in 2010. Here is a link to the source of this number and previous posts on North Koreans logging in Russia.

Read the full story here:
Logging in Russia: Not What It Used to Be
Daily NK
Kim Yoinh-hun


DPRK forests continue to shrink

Friday, June 17th, 2011

UPDATE (2011-6-23): Today the Nautilus Institute sent out more interesting resources on the state of the DPRK’s forests.  Check them out below:

“Forest and Other Biomass Production in the DPRK: Current Situation and Recent Trends as Indicated by Remote Sensing Data”
Power Point Presentation by  Seung-Ho Lee (June 2006)

“Unbearable Legacies: The Politics of Environmental Degradation in North Korea”
Peter Hayes, August 30, 2009

ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-17):


Pictured above (Google Earth): A North Korean propaganda slogan on a mountain-side urging “Let’s plant more trees!”

This should be nothing new to regular readers of this site, but according to a recent article by Yonhap:

Deforestation in North Korea is taking place at a rapid pace as people cut down trees for fuel and turn forest into farmland, a report by a state think tank here said Friday.

An average of 127,000 hectares of forest in North Korea have been destroyed on average every year for the past two decades, the Korea Forest Research Institute (KFRI) said in the report based on data by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

I have not been able to locate the report on the KFRI web page.  If any readers are able to locate it, please send it to me.

An earlier report found that in two adjacent biosphere reserves across the border of China and North Korea, over one half of primary forest landscapes have been deteriorated by exploitive uses, including seed harvesting and systematic logging.

You can read a number of previous posts on similar topics here: Ministry of ForestryForestry, and Lumber.


DPRK sees massive forest fires for agriculture

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

NASA released this satellite image (dated April 13, 2011) of the DPRK that shows a number of forest fires:

Click thumbnail for larger image

According to NASA:

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite detected several fires in North Korea on April 13, 2011. The fires are marked in red in the image. The fires stop at the country’s borders with China and South Korea, a sign that they were probably deliberately set. Fire is frequently used throughout the world to clear land for agriculture and other purposes, but rules governing the use of fire vary from country to country.

Clustered along the east coast, many of the fires are producing thick smoke, blanketing the Sea of Japan with haze. Though some of the smoke may be coming from far eastern Russia, the densest plumes extend east from the Korean peninsula.

The fires appear to be taking place straight down the east coast.

This is the second time NASA has documented the spread of forest fires for agricultural purposes in the DPRK.  Here is a previous post on the same topic from October 2009 (with picture).


DPRK looking to solve problems with trees

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

According to Voice of America:

Deforestation has contributed to major floods while also worsening chronic hunger problems in North Korea, but now the communist-led government is supporting a small but growing effort to recover the hillsides with fruit and nut trees.

For more than four decades after its creation in the wake of the Second World War, North Korea relied on its communist ally, the Soviet Union, to provide fertilizer for its farms. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, food production in North Korea plummeted.

Environmental mess

Deputy Director Marcus Noland of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics has studied North Korea since 1995. He says as food production fell, forests in mountainous areas were cleared to grow more crops.

“And as trees were cut down on the hillsides, that contributed to soil erosion, river silting, which exacerbated the seasonal flooding problems,” says Noland. “So, the North Koreans have ended up with a real environmental mess on their hands.”

Major floods hit North Korea in 2007 and again this summer. But the environmental issues first got the government’s attention in 1995, when catastrophic floods damaged about 40 percent of the country’s rice paddies and contributed to a famine that killed an estimated two million people.

“Then the government said, ‘Okay, we need to do something,'” says Xu Jianchu, a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Center, a global research institution.

According to Xu, different government ministries had different ideas concerning what to do about the floods. In many places, people had cut down trees to grow their own food. Xu says the agriculture ministry wanted trees back on the mountainsides and people’s crops off them.

Trees and crops together

But the environment ministry took a different view. Working with the Swiss aid agency, it started a small pilot project in 2002 to plant fruit and nut trees and medicinal bushes on the sloping hillsides, alongside people’s crops.

“We get the tree cover back, and, second, also, we do provide the needs of the local people for food,” says Jianchu.

The World Agroforestry Center joined the project in 2008. Earlier in the decade, Pyongyang had begun loosening its tight controls over the country’s food production. Xu says the government organized households into user groups which were given autonomy to choose what kinds of trees to grow. That was important, Xu says, because for one thing, the government had been offering only pine, poplar and larch trees for hillside planting – three species the farmers didn’t want really don’t want because they were not related to their food security.

The user groups were allowed to establish their own fruit-tree nurseries to expand production. With help terracing the steep hills and improving their farming practices, Xu says food production has increased, and farmers are even selling their surplus in local markets.

However, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of how much they are producing. According to Xu, people tend to say they grew less than they did because they believe the government will take away their surplus.

“They try to always under-report what they harvest because sometimes they are still afraid the government will take away if they produce too much,” he says.

A good start

While the policy remains controversial, Xu says it’s gaining support in the government. He says the best indication that the project is working is that it’s growing.

What started with just three groups is now up to about 60, covering several hundred hectares of land.

That’s a small fraction of the more than one million acres of deforested hillside being farmed, according to a report Xu co-wrote on the subject.

But it’s a good start, says the Peterson Institute’s Marcus Noland.

“I’m not sure whether the policies they’re now pursuing on these projects are the most optimal, but the idea that at least they’re trying to plant trees and reverse some of this process is a good sign.”

But Noland adds that deforestation is just one of the major food production problems North Korea faces. He says it will take a revival of the country’s overall economy to end the country’s chronic problems with hunger.

The Taedonggang Fruit Farm and Kosan Fruit Farm have received heavy attention in the DPRK media recently.  Although the North Koreans have never admitted to receiving assistance to set up all of their new fruit farms, I am willing to bet that some of these international organizations played a role.

Read the full story here:
Trees are North Korea Latest Weapons Against Hunger, Floods
Voice of America


More DPRK loggers reportedly running away

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

According to a former North Korean logger in Russia, instances of forestry workers running away from a “Forestry Mission” program organized by North Korea’s Forestry Ministry in the Russian Far East are increasing due to excessive salary deductions currently being imposed by the North Korean authorities.

Song Ki Bok, a 48-year old former logger who now lives in South Korea told The Daily NK on November 18th, “The Forestry Mission takes 70% of monthly salary in the name of Party funding. Who would want to work there when all the money you earn from working yourself to death is taken from you?”

Prior to 2008, North Korea took 30% of the North Koreans’ wages for “Party loyalty funds”. However, after sanctions put in place by the international community following the first North Korean nuclear test began to bite, the amount was increased to 70%.

The North Korean forestry workers do hard physical labor. Depending on the intensity of their work, they receive just $40 to $100 per month.

Therefore, once 70% is deducted as Party funds, the take-home pay of the worker is between $12 and $30. As a result, workers cannot even dream of wiring sums back to family in the North. They just deliver what cash they can gather via colleagues returning home.

Worse yet, with this kind of swingeing monthly deduction, many workers cannot even recover the bribe they had to offer Party officials in order to be sent to Russia in the first place. For example, the total amount Song ended up paying was nearly $400.

Before escaping from the forestry program, Song saw a monthly salary of $30, meaning that even if he had saved every penny he earned for a year he still would not have recouped the $400 he paid out in bribes.

In the beginning, he was buoyed by the ‘Russia Dream’. The family of a worker in a foreign country traditionally lives in better conditions than most people. Therefore, Song went to Russia in the belief that if he worked hard for three years, he could make 10 years of a North Korean working man’s salary; however, the reality was as harsh as the bitter cold of Siberia.

The Forestry Mission in Russia; Kim Jong Il’s hard currency provider

According to Song, there are 17 forestry sites in Russia which employ North Koreans. Depending on the size of the camp there are differences; however, approximately 1,500~2,000 North Koreans work at each.

The major activities of the Party Committee in each camp are surveillance and the collection of Party funds. A manager, Party secretary and an agent from each of the National Security Agency and People’s Security Ministry are assigned to each site, and 15 administrative officers below them manage operations.

The life of workers is the same as it would be if they lived in North Korea. They must partake of weekly evaluation meetings, and food is provided by distribution. They plant potatoes and wheat in cleared areas near their digs to supplement the insufficient state provisions.

If workers leave without permission, they are punished upon their return. If the crime is grave, the worker might be summoned to North Korea for reeducation.

Song commented, “Sometime people leave the camp to go hunting to earn money. They can only escape punishment by bribing the management.”

In total, the amount gathered in the name of Party funds by the North Korean authorities from each camp can exceed $140,000 per month. Calculations suggest that the annual North Korean government take from the program exceeds $25 million.

However, this harsh Party policy is driving escapes, according to Song, “Since most of their monthly salary began to be taken away as Party funds, the number of workers escaping started to increase. Just from those I know, the average has reached 30 workers per a year.”

Song, describing the harsh working conditions at the site, said, “In 2006, a wood cutter from Dukcheon in South Pyongan Province who had frostbite in both feet at work didn’t receive treatment in time. In the end, they had to cut off both his legs. His co-workers, who could not ignore the situation, raised it with the Party Committee there; however, not only was this opinion ignored, but the wood cutter was sent home with the explanation, ‘It was an accident caused by my own carelessness’.”

“The life of a forestry worker fighting against cold which can reach -40˚C in winter is unspeakably tough,” Song said. “Meanwhile, they don’t even receive a proper month’s salary, which reduces their will to work.”

“If a worker escapes, in the end he has no choice but to head to South Korea. When I think about those of my colleagues who couldn’t come to South Korea with me, it is still hard to sleep at night.”

Read more about logging camps in Russia (including satellite imagery) here and here.

Read the full story here:
Runaway Loggers on the Rise Due to Wage Cuts
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


Agroforestry a success in DPRK

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

According to Medical News Today:

In a country where good news is scarce, a pioneering agroforestry project in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is restoring heavily degraded landscapes and providing much-needed food for communities living on the sloping lands.

Jianchu Xu, East-Asia Coordinator for the World Agroforestry Centre, which has been providing technical expertise and training for the project since 2008, said agroforestry – in this case the growing of trees on sloping land – is uniquely suited to DPR Korea for addressing food security and protecting the environment.

“What we have managed to achieve so far has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives and the local environment,” Jianchu explains.

“Previously malnourished communities are now producing their own trees and growing chestnut, walnut, peaches, pears and other fruits and berries as well as medicinal bushes,” Jianchu explains. “They have more food and vitamins and are earning income through trading”.

Following the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 and a lack of subsidies for agriculture in DPR Korea, famine and malnutrition became widespread in rural areas.

DPR Korea is a harsh mountainous country where only 16% of the land area is suitable for cultivation. In desperation in the 1990s, people turned to the marginal sloping lands but this had a price: deforestation for cropping land and fuelwood left entire landscapes denuded and depleted of nutrients.

In an effort to reverse the situation, an innovative and pioneering project began in 2002 involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection. The World Agroforestry Centre was later brought in to provide technical advice.

Suan County has since expanded to 65 user groups in seven counties, with several hundred hectares of sloping land now under sustainable management. And the project is still growing.

A system of establishing user groups with one representative from each family has enabled demonstration plots to be set up and a large number of households to benefit from knowledge about growing multi-purpose trees. Such trees can improve and stabilize soils as well as provide fertilizer, fodder or fruits.

Most of the people farming the sloping lands are pension workers with little agricultural experience. The agroforestry systems they are now implementing and the techniques they have learnt are significantly increasing tree cover on the slopes as well giving them a diversity of crops.

Several of the user groups have started their own nurseries so that they can be self-sufficient and produce their own planting materials.

Initially a European consultant was engaged to provide advice on sloping land management, but in 2008 SDC brought the World Agroforestry Centre’s China office into the project.

“With similar experiences and history, our Chinese staff were well-placed to work in DPR Korea,” explains Jianchu. “It was important to have people with an understanding of the technical, institutional and socio-political context.”

There are very few international organizations operating in DPR Korea, and most of these are providing emergency relief. “With our strong focus on capacity development, we have established a good reputation,” adds Jianchu. So much so that the Centre is now negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the government and there are plans to establish an office in the country.

According to Jianchu, one of the most important aspects to ensuring the project is sustained is capacity development at all levels.

“As well as the user groups, we are providing training to multi-disciplinary working groups comprising representatives from the national academy, agricultural universities, forestry research and planning institutes, and staff of the Ministry.”

“There is an enormous need to improve knowledge and skills in DPR Korea in the area of natural resource management and to nurture young scientists,” says Jianchu. SDC is now investing in this area. Each year over the past few years, a handful of students from DPR Korea have undertaken studies with the Center for Mountain Ecosystem Studies, jointly run by the World Agroforestry Centre and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and hosted by the Kunming Institute of Botany in China. Some could be considered for a doctoral program in the future.

To further support the up-skilling of DPR Korea scientists and the up-scaling of agroforestry, the Centre will soon publish an agroforestry manual. Work is also underway on an agroforestry policy for sloping lands management and an agroforestry inventory.

Read the full story here:
Agroforestry A Success In North Korea
Medical News Today
Kate Langford


US teenager to visits DPRK to pitch tree idea

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

UPDATE 2 (11/22/2010): Apparently the boy has not given up on his dream and is now protesting in China (well for one minute).  Really.  According to the AP:

A 13-year-old American boy campaigning to turn the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea into a peace park tried to get the Chinese president’s attention Monday, staging a brief protest near Tiananmen Square before being led away by police.

Jonathan Lee unfurled a sign saying “peace treaty” and “nuclear free DMZ children’s peace forest” as he stood outside Tiananmen Gate just north of the square in central Beijing.

The scene of numerous demonstrations over the years, the gate and square remain some of the most tightly controlled public spaces in China and all protests on it are quickly snuffed by security agents, sometimes violently. In 1989, tanks and troops rolled into the square to crush a student-led pro-democracy movement, killing at least hundreds of people.

Less than a minute after Lee began his demonstration, a man presumed to be a plainclothes police officer grabbed the boy’s sign and waved away watching journalists, who had been contacted by Lee’s family ahead of time. Three or four uniformed police officers then hurriedly escorted Lee and his mother away without commotion.

Police held the pair and a few hours later Lee and his mother, Melissa Lee, returned to their hotel where they were joined by the boy’s father and sister. The family arrived unaccompanied at Beijing airport Monday evening to catch a Korean Airlines flight to Seoul, but declined to comment to The Associated Press.

The Lees’ treatment by Chinese authorities was relatively mild compared with the often rough handling and swift, forced deportation given to most foreigners who try to stage protests in China. It was not clear if they were forced to leave the country or had already planned to do so.

The boy, from Ridgeland, Mississippi, is trying to persuade the leaders of North and South Korea, China and the United States to work for reunification of the two Koreas.

“Hopefully my picketing will touch them in a way, so they’ll really consider peace, you know, between North and South Korea,” Lee said in an interview Friday with Joel Clark, a documentary filmmaker who traveled to China with the Lees, that was provided to the AP. “I guess I’m just trying to do, you know, what God would want, making peace.”

His Korean-born father, Kyoung Lee, said in a written statement Monday that his son has sent letters to President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak but had not been able to give a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. That, the father said, made the Tiananmen protest necessary.

Passionate and strong-willed, Lee is the latest, and perhaps youngest, activist to try to bring peace to the heavily militarized Korean peninsula, divided since the 1950-53 Korean War in which both the U.S. and China fought. The U.S. is Seoul’s ally, stationing troops in the well-off nation, while China is the main economic and diplomatic backer of the isolated, impoverished North.

Lee made a rare visit to North Korea in August to propose his idea of a “children’s peace forest” in the demilitarized zone and was taken on a tour of the 2.5-mile (four-kilometer)-wide buffer zone, which is sealed off with electric fences and studded with land mines. A hoped-for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not materialize, although Lee said the officials forwarded to Kim a letter from him.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the case, saying Lee family members had not signed privacy waivers.

UPDATE 1 (8/19/2010): According ot the AFP:

A US teenager who spent a week in North Korea to promote an idea for a peace forest on the tense Korean border said Thursday his trip had given him “hope” for the future of the peninsula.

Jonathan Lee, a 13-year-old ethnic Korean, said he felt safe and had been treated well during his visit to one of the most secretive states in the world.

Lee said that he headed to Pyongyang with a letter for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, proposing the creation of a “children’s peace forest” in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) dividing North and South.

The trip comes amid high cross-border tensions, which grew after South Korea and the United States accused the North in May of torpedoing one of Seoul’s warships with the loss of 46 lives.

“My letter suggesting this (idea) was passed on to Chairman Kim Jong-Il along with my book as a gift to him,” Lee told reporters at Beijing airport, where he stopped for a layover with his parents before flying to Seoul.

“I went to several places but the place that made the biggest impression on me was the DMZ,” said Lee, who hails from the southern US state of Mississippi.

“While at the DMZ, I spoke of my hope of having a children’s peace forest. My suggestion for the motto is ‘Above politics, above conflicts, above borders, above ideology’.”

Lee has sent letters to South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, US President Barack Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao, explaining his idea for the peace forest of fruit and chestnut trees on the world’s last Cold War frontier.

The surrounding area is heavily fortified with concrete, barbed wire, land mines and soldiers from both North and South Korea.

His visit recalled the efforts of 11-year-old US schoolgirl Samantha Smith, who in 1983 travelled to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, after writing to then leader Yuri Andropov to ask if he planned a nuclear war against the US.

“It’s all about giving hope to the people and children around the world,” said Lee, the founder of a global youth environmental group called I.C.E.Y. H.O.P.E.

“On this trip, I discovered that both sides want reunification, and that Korea is one, so I see hope on the Korean peninsula.”

He told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that North Korean officials had given a “good” response to his proposal, and that the country’s people were “quite lively”.

The teen also said officials had told his family that progress could be made on his idea only if the United States were to help transform the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War into a full-fledged peace treaty.

North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, approved Lee’s trip despite a tense stand-off between the countries over the detention of four American citizens for illegal entry.

Three have been released but but Aijalon Gomes, a 30-year-old former English teacher in Seoul, is still being held in prison there.

Gomes was arrested in January and sentenced to eight years’ hard labour for an illegal border crossing. The North said in July that Gomes had tried to commit suicide and was being treated in hospital.

Lee has previously said his idea was inspired by former South Korean leader Kim Dae-Jung, who died in August last year.

As president from 1998-2003, Kim Dae-Jung held a landmark summit with North Korea’s Kim in 2000 that paved the way for inter-Korean reconciliation and earned him a Nobel peace prize.

ORIGINAL POST (8/11/2010): According to Yonhap:

A teenage American boy says he is traveling to North Korea this week with a letter urging leader Kim Jong-il to allow the creation of a peace forest that would grow over the heavily armed border between the Koreas.

“You may be wondering why a 13-year-old boy wants to go into North Korea, especially right now when there are a lot of problems,” Jonathan Lee, a Korean-American from Mississippi, wrote in his letter.

“Well, I’ve been talking about planting chestnut trees in North Korea for the past three years. The reason I have is because I want to help the environment and help the people at the same time. Now is the right time because many wish for peace right now on the Korean peninsula.”

A youth environmental activist who founded in Mississippi the International Cooperation of Environmental Youth – Helping Our Polluted Earth, Jonathan was first moved to pursue the idea of planting chestnut trees on the Korean Peninsula when he met with former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung three years ago.

“His wish for peace between the two Koreas made an impression on me,” he wrote in his letter, recounting the meeting at a celebration of the anniversary of the two Koreas’ 2000 summit.

“Korea has been divided for 60 years and has been officially at war during this time. The children of these countries have never met or interacted with each other. Personally, I think this is sad,” he said.

Jonathan was scheduled to leave Seoul for China on Tuesday, where he will deliver the same letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. He has already sent the proposal to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Jonathan’s eight-day trip to the communist nation will start Thursday and will include a meeting with a North Korean government official, his father, Kyoung Lee, says. He declined to elaborate.

Kyoung Lee believes that safety for his son and his family was guaranteed because their visit was made possible through the North’s U.N. representative in New York.

The family says that they also requested a meeting between Jonathan and the 68-year-old North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. But the North has only mentioned the possibility of a meeting with a “senior” official.

If Jonathan’s wish to plant a forest of chestnut trees in Panmunjom, along the border between the two Koreas, did come true, it would be a stark contrast to the surrounding area heavily fortified with barbed wire and military personnel, he believes.

Panmunjom, the village where the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War was signed, lies within the Demilitarized Zone, a four-kilometer-wide swath of land bisecting the peninsula.

Jonathan says his chestnut trees would “not only help the environment, but would also provide food for the North Koreans.” The North has been suffering from decades of food shortages and deforestation — a consequence of people cutting down trees to plant crops for their survival.

“Above politics; Above conflicts; Above borders; Above ideology; It’s all about giving hope to people and children around the world,” Jonanthan says, referring to his motto for the forest.

“This is the most important part of the letter that Jonathan would like to emphasize,” his father said.

Jonathan’s group, also known as I.C.E.Y.-H.O.P.E., raised funds in South Korea last year and delivered them to the North for use in planting chestnut trees.

Read the full story here:
Teenage U.S. environmentalist to visit N. Korea on bold peace mission
Lee Haye-ah


Forest degradation deepens around and within protected areas in East Asia

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Biological Conservation, May 2010
Lina Tang, Guofan Shao,Zhengji Piao, Limin Dai, Michael A. Jenkins, Shaoxian Wang, Gang Wue, Jianguo Wuf, Jingzhu Zhao

Download the PDF here.

Forest degradation in protected areas has been monitored around the world with remote sensing data, but degradation processes undetectable by widely used satellite sensors have been largely overlooked. Increased human pressures and socioeconomic development make forest protection more challenging, particularly for forest ecosystems that lie across national borders because of the differences in national socioeconomic policies and conditions within them. Here with Landsat data, Google Earth images, and field observations, we show that, in two adjacent biosphere reserves across the border of China and North Korea, over one half of primary forest landscapes have been deteriorated by exploitive uses, including seed harvesting and systematic logging. The combined effects of detectable and hidden degradation processes have further damaged forest ecosystems in the core areas in the two biosphere reserves, threatening sustainable biodiversity conservation in the region. It is urgent to develop cross-border collaborative conservation strategies that can help combat both detectable and hidden degradation processes at a regional scale.


North Korean logger detained in Russian east

Friday, March 19th, 2010

According to the Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times):

The North Korean’s note, scrawled in pen, was simple: “I want to go to South Korea. Why? To find freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of life.”

The ex-logger, on the run from North Korean authorities, handed the note over to a South Korean missionary in the Russian city of Vladivostok last week in hopes it would lead to political asylum.

Just before he was to meet Thursday with the International Organization for Migrants, a team of men grabbed him, slapped handcuffs on him and drove off, rights activists in Moscow said Friday. He was spirited away to the eastern port city of Nakhokda, where he is sure to be handed back over to North Korean officials and repatriated to his communist homeland, activists said in Seoul.

Police in Vladivostok refused to comment. A senior South Korean diplomat in Vladivostok said he had no information. Officials from the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok could not be reached for comment.

The 51-year-old would be the third North Korean logger in Russia in a week to make a bid for asylum. On March 9, two other North Koreans who had fled their jobs as loggers managed to get into the South Korean consulate in Vladivostok.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported last week that two North Koreans climbed a fence, ran past the guards and entered the consulate, saying they wanted political asylum. ITAR-Tass carried a similar report.

The incidents focused attention on the precarious existence of tens of thousands of North Koreans sent by the impoverished regime to work in neighboring Russia.

Russian government figures from 2007 put the number of North Korean laborers at 32,600, most of them working in logging in the remote east.

The Rev. Peter Chung, a Seoul-based activist, said there are about 40,000 North Korean loggers in Russia, but that some 10,000 of them have fled their work sites. Some are finding work as day laborers while others are in hiding as they try to map out how to win asylum in foreign diplomatic missions.

The North Korean described the conditions as unbearable. His government took half his meager wages, while the North Korean company operating the logging camp took 35 percent. He kept just 15 percent — about $60 a month — an arrangement that rendered him “virtually a slave,” he told activists.

He eventually fled the logging camp, taking odd jobs to survive. He also became a Christian, Chung and Kim Hi-tae said, which could draw severe punishment, even execution, back home.

The successful asylum bid of two other former North Korean loggers inspired Kim to make a similar attempt, Chung said.

Previous posts on the North Korean loggers in Russia can be found hereMore here. And here. And here.

Read the full story below:
3rd North Korean logger attempts to defect in Russia, propelled by dream of ‘freedom of life’
Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times)
Kim Kwang Tae


DPRK reopens markets, authorizes food sales

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies
NK Brief No. 10-2-24-1

Suffering from severe food shortages, North Korean authorities ordered that markets be opened unconditionally, and that there be absolutely no crack-down on the sale of foodstuffs within the markets. This is according to a report issued on February 18 by the North Korean human rights organization ‘Good Friends’.

Good Friends’ newsletter revealed, “After examining a report on food shortages and the conditions of residents in each region throughout the country by the Office of Economic Policy Review, the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party issued an ‘Order for Absolutely No Regulation Regarding Foodstuffs’ to each law enforcement office.” The order stated that until central distribution is running smoothly, all markets are to be reopened as they were prior to recent government crack-downs, and that under no circumstances were authorities to try to regulate food sales.

Furthermore, it reported that “the People’s Security Bureau also received the Central Committee’s order, and passed on a special instruction to each regional security office ordering agents not to crack down on markets for anything other than illegal goods, and not to regulate food sales, in particular.” Local authorities were also ordered not to engage in altercations with market traders and not to intervene or interfere in fights between traders working within the markets.

According to Good Friends, “Central Party authorities set the price of one kilogram of rice at 24~25 Won, corn at 9 Won/Kg, and corn noodles at 10 Won in an attempt to stabilize the daily lives of people, but the lack of central distribution made the attempt meaningless.”

A North Korean public health official relayed to Good Friends that a report released by central authorities on January 22 stated that there were more than 47 thousand cases of tuberculosis in the North, but that more than half were unable to receive treatment in a hospital, and that “the rise in the number of deaths due to starvation among the most indigent was due to TB patients being unable to eat and subsequently dying after catching a cold or the flu.”

In mid-January, Kim Jong Il called a meeting of Party administrative director (and brother-in-law) Jang Sung-taek and other high-level authorities in order to ease the side-effects of last year’s currency reform. A North Korean source relayed to Daily NK on February 17 that at the meeting, it had been decided that authorities would issue emergency rations to residents facing the threat of starvation.

According to this order, the Office of Food Procurement has been tasked with distribution of the emergency food; neighborhood units receive 5 kg of food daily, while offices receive between 5~15 kg, depending on the number of employees. Neighborhood unit directors or factory supervisors are responsible for assessing the food needs of their neighbors or employees, and prioritize food distribution to those households at risk of starvation.

Until the end of January, currency reform measures that banned the sale of food and drove prices up drove a significant number of households to starvation. However, since the emergency rations measure began to be enforced on February 1, there have been no reports of large-scale famine.