Strawberries in winter: AFSC's program in North Korea
When you ask yourself who holds the keys to world peace, you may not think of farmers. But in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), where bad weather makes crops hard to grow and political isolation makes help hard to come by, a farmer’s success can make a world of difference.
Linda Lewis, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) DPRK program, traveled to North Korea in the wake of political tensions this spring. Hers was the first American group to visit in some time, and our farm partners expressed joy that she still came.
Through the years, AFSC has helped introduce new technologies in the DPRK to improve farm yields and alleviate hunger, including plastic trays for seedling cultivation and most recently, greenhouses. This March, AFSC brought a group to China for a study tour—an unusual travel opportunity for DPRK farmers, and one we try to offer every year.
“Most farmers didn’t believe unheated greenhouses could be used to grow crops in winter until they saw it with their own eyes,” says Linda. Now they know they can grow crown daisy lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes—even strawberries and mushrooms—to add variety to their region’s winter diet.
“We are model farms in our counties,” says one farm manager. “The government does field trips to our farms, we have visits by other farmers—so our country has ways of disseminating new ideas and ways of sharing knowledge.”
That sharing of new ideas, within the country and outside of it, does more than improve farm yields and alleviate hunger—it also builds intercultural understanding and good will.
This year, AFSC has agreed to supply 23 farms with enough plastic trays to plant three hectares, and cameras and cell phones to help them document and report on their progress, among other supplies.
“I am continually surprised by how much small things matter,” says Linda. “Simple things like plastic sheets, bamboo for seedbed covers, string to hold the sheets down over the greenhouses, important supplies that they just can’t get.”