Vietnam offers 5,000 tons of rice in aid to N.Korea

2001-04-17 00:09
NORTH KOREA 010412: Vietnam offers 5,000 tons of rice in aid to North Korea
// [WFP] The Region-North Korea-Great Bulldozer:


Vietnam offers 5,000 tons of rice in aid to North Korea
SEOUL, April 12 (AFP) - Vietnam donated 5,000 tons of rice and other
humanitarian aid to famine-stricken North Korea Thursday, the North's
official media said monitored here.
The donation ceremony was held at the People's Palace of Culture in
Pyongyang with Vietnamese vice minister of culture and information Vo Hong
Quang attending, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Vo Hong Quang was leading a cultural delegation to attend the North's
festival to mark founder Kim Il-Sung's birthday on April 15. Kim died in
1994, and his son Kim Jong-Il has since ruled the North.
The communist North has suffered from chronic food shortages due to a
series of natural disasters and failures in centralized economic policies,
heavily relying on outside aid to feed its people.
Copyright (c) 2001 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge/LAN: 12/04/2001 14:35


[WFP] The Region-North Korea-Great Bulldozer:
Aidan Foster-Carter of Leeds University reveals a disastrous agricultural
policy steered by Kim Jong Il, and comments on the opportunities for
engagement by the EU
Far Eastern Economic Review via Dow Jones
TO ENGAGE or keep your distance? The administration of U.S. President George
W. Bush has stirred up the Korean peninsula with its aloof, if confused,
attitude to North Korea. But if Bush won't engage, others will. The
European Union, keen to be a player on the peninsula, will send Swedish
Prime Minister Goran Persson to Pyongyang and Seoul in early May to discuss
missiles and mediate.
The goal of engaging North Korea is to force an end to dangerous behaviour.
This matter is not merely military. North Korea is now in its sixth year of
a food crisis which has cost the lives of at least one million people.
Flood and drought may have been the catalysts, but the root problem remains
the doubly disastrous mix of rigid planning and the whim of leaders, where
pet projects get the lion's share of resources while less favoured regions
and sectors are deprived.
The projects that paved the way for the food crisis included years of the
overuse of inorganic fertilizers, which resulted in physical and chemical
damage to soil; poorly planned hillside terracing; and the tearing down of
forests to plant maize in the mountains. All this on top of the follies of
collective farming, restricting private plots and markets.
North Korea is an ecological disaster, with the policies of Kim Jong Il and
his father, late leader Kim Il Sung, to blame.
The follies continue. When Persson meets Kim Jong Il, let him ask about land
rezoning, a project, more or less, to bulldoze North Korea flat and turn it
into farmland. As the official Korean Central News Agency describes it, this
is "a grand nature-harnessing work, to level at least 400,000 patches and
remove 30,000 kilometres of ridges between rice fields which had been handed
down through generations, and repartition them into standardized fields,
each covering 1,000-1,500 pyong" (3,300 to 4,950 square metres). In Kim's
plan, 100,000 hectares are due for flattening;
27,000 hectares have already been flattened, "changing their appearance
beyond recognition."
In a speech to the annual Supreme People's Assembly on April 5, Prime
Minister Hong Song Nam made clear the plan was central to the coming year's
priority to "develop agriculture to resolve the food problem of the people."
The policy was first carried out in marginal farming areas in Kangwon. Kim
delivered a speech on the plan in January last year-from the middle of a
field. Standing in shiny shoes amid a sea of mud, Kim saw scenic nooks and
hillocks bulldozed flat, and rejoiced.
The policy has now spread to Hwanghae, the rice-basket province in the
southwest that is crucial to national food supply. On March 25, Vice-Marshal
Jo Myong Rok, the country's top military official, who met President Bill
Clinton at the White House last October, led a rally to promote more
levelling before rice transplanting begins in May.
The theory: The creation of larger fields will allow the mechanization of
agriculture and "free farmers from backbreaking work," as Kim said in his
speech, repeating one of his father's favourite mantras. But mechanization
is a pipe dream when the most hi-tech tool that most workers are armed with
is a trowel, and tractors lie rusting for lack of fuel.
The North Korean leader knows this, and has called for "strenuous efforts to
repair {them} . . . as has been instructed before". He has pledged to supply
160 imported tractors, although North Korea is desperately short of foreign
exchange and this could hardly help the whole country, just a favoured few.
Kim admits that rezoning won't raise yields immediately: "It is natural that
the fertility of rezoned fields decreases," he said. So "the soil must be
enriched by the application of rich organic fertilizer through a mass
In fact, Kim has another motivation, and it has nothing to do with yields or
labour-saving. "The fields in the Handure Plain . . . have been laid out
well in regular shapes . . . . I am greatly satisfied," he said in last
year's speech. "The plain has been completely transformed . . . . It would
be impossible now for a former landowner to find his land, if he were to
come with his land register to take his land back. The Handure Plain now
looks like the land of a socialist state." Intriguing that the Dear Leader
thinks the landlords who fled in the 1940s, or their children, might come
back and claim their own-as has happened in Eastern Europe since communist
rule collapsed. Is he afraid?
Worse, in North Korea's current conditions, the attempt to mechanize
agriculture makes no economic sense. Experts including Marcus Noland of the
Institute for International Economics in Washington say that Pyongyang
should not even try to grow food. Instead, they say, it should seek
comparative advantage in exporting light industrial goods, and import grain
with the foreign exchange it earns, like South Korea.
As Persson knows, all who aid Pyongyang-and it's a long list-have the right
to insist that policies and practices which killed a million or more North
Koreans cease. The EU has added leverage in that it may soon propose the
establishment of diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. The UN World Food
Programme has its largest operation in the world there, and though other
organizations such as Oxfam have pulled out, the WFP and many other
non-governmental organizations look to be there for the duration. Yet rather
than voice their concerns and insist on tighter conditionality, they have
been coy to challenge the irrational policies which caused the crisis and
which still go on.
The solution found in China and Vietnam-the development of family farms and
markets-offers a good model. In January, Kim hinted that new times demand
new methods. In reality, informal markets are the only thing standing
between most North Koreans and starvation. But to openly embrace them seems
to be too much for Kim Jong Il.
As for land rezoning, it's a new nadir. The fields of what is now North
Korea were shaped by generations of human labour down the centuries, and
bulldozing them is comparable to the Taliban's irreversible destruction of
Afghanistan's prized Buddhas.
What can be addressed is the fact that seven-year-old North Koreans,
according to data analyzed by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise
Institute, are 20 centimetres shorter and 10 kilogrammes lighter than their
southern peers. Persson and Kim should have a lot to talk about.
Copyright (c) 2001 Dow Jones and Company, Inc.
Received by NewsEdge/LAN: 12/04/2001 06:53

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