Why North Korea places so much emphasis on organic farming, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner and Brain Trust members Randall Ireson and Kathi Zellweger were among interviewees featured in this article by journalist Justin Rohrlich about North Korean farming practices. The resulting article was published on 31 May 2013 in NK News Pro. –CanKor]

“Let us thoroughly implement the Juche farming methods created by the fatherly leader Comrade Kim Il Sung!”

Picture panel at Sambong Farm, Pyongwon County, DPRK (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

Picture panel at Sambong Farm, Pyongwon County, DPRK (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

As reported recently by North Korean state news agency KCNA – and picked up by NK News Pro Media Monitoring – a “short course” in organic farming methods was held at the Pyongyang Centre for Cultural Exchange with Foreign Countries from 14-16 May 2013.

A delegation of experts led by Andre Leu, President of the Bonn, Germany-based International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (also the current Chair of the Organic Federation of Australia and former Chair of the Far North Queensland Lychee Growers Association), was in town to direct the two-day program, which included, among other seminars, “Multi-Functional Benefits of Organic Agriculture, Soil Health and Nutrition,” “Green Manure,” and “Humus Soil and its Making.” Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian NGO responds to BBC Panorama report on North Korea

[CanKor is often asked by journalists how to go about gaining access to North Korea. There was a time in the late 1990s when the DPRK experimented with allowing media to report on UN and NGO projects in the country. DPRK authorities quickly learned that market-driven Western media like to sensationalize the negative and ignore the positive. The door that was slightly ajar has since been locked tightly.

John Sweeney with DPRK military official at Panmunjom (frame capture from BBC documentary)

John Sweeney with DPRK military official at Panmunjom (frame capture from BBC documentary)

Having been denied access as reporters, some journalists have resorted to entering the country as part of tourist groups. A recent example is veteran newspaper reporter-turned TV journalist John Sweeney, who entered North Korea with his wife and a cameraman as part of a tour of students from the London School of Economics (LSE). The result was a half-hour documentary aired on BBC as a Panorama special.

LSE students and faculty have complained that the BBC’s actions were unethical and might endanger staff and students’ ability to work in difficult or hostile places in the future. Senior BBC executive Ceri Thomas defended the decision to send an undercover team. “This is an important piece of public interest journalism.” Asked whether that justified putting student lives at risk, he replied: “We think it does.”

Ethics in journalism is certainly a relevant issue to discuss. But is this really “an important piece of public interest journalism”?

Read the rest of this entry »

Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?

Until this past week I had never even heard of the Centre for European Reform. On Friday 12 April 2013, my emailed alerts to the North Korea Forum on LinkedIn brought my attention to Ian Bond’s excellent article Out of range, out of mind: Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?

European union conceptAs you might have read in the left-hand column, CanKor has always been interested in the “role to be played in northeast Asia by second-tier middle powers like Canada, Australia and the European Union.” I have often puzzled over the fact that after the initial “Sunshine” enthusiasm shown by European countries for a role in North Korea in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Europe by and large seems to have ceded its politically astute and innovative role to the geopolitical interests of the USA.

My own European roots have rebelled against the notion that when it comes to North-East Asia, Europe should act as cheerleaders of a  doomed-from-the-start American policy initiated by an American President politically traumatized by the events of 9-11. Who would have thought that Barack Obama would continue his predecessor’s ill-conceived notion that somehow playing the DPRK’s game of brinkmanship would bring them to their knees? I too wish that doing nothing except wagging a finger would have prevented North Korea from building up to 10 nuclear warheads and a missile capable of launching a (non-functioning) satellite into orbit.

Our best efforts over the past seven years have not been able to stir the Canadian Government into any useful direction. Even playing the “good cop” role, as Andrei Lankov recently suggested in Ottawa, seems beyond our government’s ability or intent. The same apparently goes for Australia and New Zealand. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing modern music to Pyongyang, by Alexander Liebreich

[German conductor Alexander Liebreich is one of the few Westerners to have visited North Korea several times. On his last trip, with the Munich Chamber Orchestra in November, he was surprised how much the situation has changed. Liebreich was interviewed on the BBC World Service programme The Forum, as can be read below. Alexander Liebreich is the chief conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra. He established a reputation for pursuing unusual projects. In 2002, he visited North and South Korea together with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie where they gave the first Korean performances of Bruckner Symphony No. 8. He has since returned to North Korea six times. The 2005 documentary Pyongyang Crescendo captures his teaching experiences there. Liebreich’s trips to Pyongyang are part of a programme of cultural dialogue between North Korea and Germany sponsored by the Goethe Institute. The Goethe Institute runs programmes with the North Korean government which include study exchange trips, German language teaching and support for the Grand Study Hall of the People, North Korea’s national library. –CanKor]

Alexander Liebreich in Pyongyang (Photo by Nils Clauss, Goethe Institute Korea)

Alexander Liebreich in Pyongyang (Photo by Nils Clauss, Goethe Institute Korea)

“Is there anywhere in the city that we shouldn’t go?”

It is wise to ask this question early on in a trip to Pyongyang. I put it to our contacts at the German Korean Friendship society, who had helped organise our trip.


“But… is it OK to just walk around Pyongyang, unaccompanied?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”

I was astonished. Their only recommendation was that we avoid visiting the train station and resist taking photos of military buildings.

I travelled to Pyongyang with my orchestra to give workshops to students at the University of Music and Dance with the ambitious plan of putting on a joint concert after five days. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume III, No.11

The DPRK Business Monthly, an international business report edited in Beijing, has been made available to CanKor readers by its editor, Paul White. Please check the  current December 2012 edition here: DPRK Business Monthly Vol III, No.11

250px-ryugyeong_hotel_on_february_20111Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • DPRK-China Trade Up 62%
  • German NGO Research Institute of Organic Agriculture
  • Kempinski to Manage Ryugyong Hotel
  • Mongolia Eyes Rajin Port Access
  • Book Review: A Capitalist in North Korea by Felix Abt

…plus a number of other items, including a selection of North Korean tours by various tour operators.

Comment by the Business Monthly Editor:

While blogs and tabloid newspapers had a field day with North Korea’s supposed announcement that it had discovered a “unicorn lair,” more responsible journalists pointed out that “unicorn” is one of many English translations of the word “Kirin.” This is the name of a mythical beast in Asian folklore, along with the dragon and the phoenix. In fact, KCNA itself pointed this out. Calling a cave a “Kirin cave” is no stranger than calling a peak “Dragon Peak” or a valley “Dragon Valley.”

The aim of the report was to offer the inscription “Kiringul” as evidence that King Tongmyong, the founder of the Koguryo kingdom (37 BC-668 AD) set up his capital near Pyongyang. This is understandable given the importance the DPRK and the ROK attach to claiming the allegiance of all Koreans. There are legends associated with the king, including one that he rode a Kirin.

If that was all there was to it, it would be hardly worth mentioning. But it is important to note that much reporting hostile to the DPRK will by accident — or design — pick on a clumsy translation to sneer at the North Koreans and present a misleading picture of the place.

Please feel free to consult the full issue by clicking on this link: DPRK Business Monthly Vol III, No.11

Related articles

Movie: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Two very different movies about North Korea were featured in September’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The first was a documentary entitled “Camp 14 – Total Control Zone”, by the German filmmaker Marc Wiese. According to the TIFF publicity, this is “An enthralling documentary portrait of twenty-nine-year-old Shin Dong-huyk, who was born and spent the first two decades of his life behind the barb wire of a North Korean labour camp, until his dramatic escape launched him into an outside world he had never known.” The movie is based on the book by journalist Blaine Harden entitled Escape From Camp 14which has been reviewed for CanKor by editor Jack Kim.

The second film featured at the TIFF was a romantic comedy, a joint Belgium, UK & North Korea production. According to TIFF, the movie is about “A young female coal miner (who) struggles to realize her dream of becoming a circus acrobat in this winning, life-affirming fable that is the first Western-financed fiction feature ever made in North Korea.”

In reviewing the TIFF, the New York Times had this to say about the film:  Read the rest of this entry »

Dutch Seminar on Outsourcing Garment and Textile Production in North Korea

[The Dutch company MODINT Buying and Production and MODINT Logistics are holding a sourcing and production seminar on 19 April 2012 in Zeist, Netherlands. The following information reached CanKor through Paul Tjia, Director of GPI Consultancy. –CanKor]

The production costs in China, where wages are rising fast, are increasing and companies are searching for cheaper locations. This is already visible in the field of garments and textiles. For this reason, MODINT, the Dutch trade association for fashion, interior design, carpets and textiles, will organize again a seminar on sourcing and production countries (19 April, from 13.00-17.00 hours). In this edition, MODINT will focus on alternative production countries, including North-Korea, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Several speakers will share their thoughts on how realistic these countries are as alternatives to China.

For the production of garments, North-Korea is one of these upcoming destinations. Although the Cold War has not ended, and political tensions remain high, more than 70 South-Korean garment companies are already producing clothing in own factories in the Kaeasong Economic Zone, employing tens of thousands of North-Korean workers. Read the rest of this entry »

My Introduction to Nampo Port

[This is the second episode in a series by Erich Weingartner, recounting his days as the founding Head of the Food Aid Liason Unit (FALU), an independent section of the United Nations World Food Program, from 1997-1999. The previous episode was “My Bumpy Road to Pyongyang”.]

“Do you have any plans for lunch?”

All I could see was my Bangladeshi colleague’s smiling face peeking at an angle through the door. I was seated on a kitchen chair, the only piece of furniture in the bedroom that was to serve as my office. I was glad for the interruption, because I had difficulty making sense of the file of “monitoring reports” balanced precariously on my knees.“I was going to ask you where you go for lunch around here,” I responded. The diplomatic compound where the UN offices were located seemed devoid of commercial establishments.

Nampo Port (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

“Normally I eat at home or at the diplomatic club,” said Mahbub,[i] “but today I am going to Nampo port. Do you have your passport with you?”

“Yes, always.”

“The blue one?”

“My Canadian passport.”

“Mmm, that might be a problem. I will check with FDRC.”

The FDRC[ii] was the unit in the Foreign Affairs Ministry that served as official DPRK counterpart to all humanitarian agencies following the 1995 floods. This was in the early days of the relationship, a time when the FDRC was still learning by trial and error how to navigate the precarious fissure between the requirements of foreign agencies and the constraints of domestic regimen. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Developing the DPRK Through Agriculture by Randall Ireson

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by CanKor Brain Trust member Randall Ireson , private consultant on rural and agricultural development issues. Please follow our link to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

Despite continuing food shortages in the DPRK, the 2012 New Year’s Joint Editorial and other statements related to the succession of Kim Jong Un suggest there will be no new approaches to revitalizing North Korean agriculture. The editorial labeled the food problem “a burning issue in building a thriving country,” [1] but allocated fewer than 150 words (of 5500) to that issue, only exhorting the masses to increase yields, implement crop rotations, and increase production of farm machinery and farm inputs.

Yet agriculture could lead a revival of the DPRK economy if appropriate policy changes were implemented. The technical means of improving farm production in the DPRK have been known for years. And if farms could use income earned from increased production to purchase improved machinery and other supplies needed for modern agriculture, a virtuous circle of investment in the farms plus support to small industry could lead to the modernization of both sectors. Government investment combined with some international assistance could stimulate sustainable increases in productivity and better incomes for workers on the farms and in related industries. Read the rest of this entry »

France opens cooperation office in Pyongyang

[In early October, Paris opened an office in Pyongyang to help French aid groups in North Korea, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said during his trip to Seoul at the end of October. Fillon said the suffering of North Koreans is behind the decision to open the cooperation office, noting that aiding the nongovernmental organizations is a top priority for the office. Currently, two French aid groups are working inside the country, under the umbrella of the European Union. Publicity about this move has been scarce. The following article by Philippe Rater, appeared in  AFP on 29 September 2011, prior to the opening. — CanKor] 

Pyongyang - Photo by AFP

France is about to open an office in North Korea to develop cultural ties and to represent French aid groups working in the totalitarian state, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

The office is to be headed by a French diplomat with Asian expertise, Olivier Vaysset, “given the needs that have been identified in the cultural and humanitarian domains,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

Vaysset’s mission does not represent France reopening diplomatic ties with North Korea. With Estonia, France is one of only two European Union powers to have no formal links with Pyongyang.

The French envoy will be the only expatriate staff member at the mission, which will be an office in a building currently used by British, German and Swedish officials. There are no plans to open a full embassy. Read the rest of this entry »

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