North Korea readies for harvest as food aid flows in

Fri Sep 2, 2011 11:28pm EDT
 
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By Jeremy Laurence

WONJONG BORDER POST, North Korea (Reuters) - Impoverished North Korea appears to have emerged from the depths of a bad winter and late spring in reasonable shape, at least in the far north and south, where a variety of crops are nearly ready for harvest.

The North has pleaded for food aid this year due to bad weather and the impact of international sanctions imposed for its nuclear program, winning donations in recent months from Russia, the European Union and U.N. organisations after sending in their own assessment teams.

But South Korea and the United States have so far refused food aid, granting only emergency aid to help the impoverished state deal with flood damage from a series of bad storms in the middle of the year.

Washington says it is still assessing the North's requests, while Seoul says it doubts Pyongyang's pleas are genuine. Until the imposition of sanctions, the two had been the biggest aid donors to the North, which has suffered chronic food shortages for years.

During a five-day trip which started near the China-Russia border and ended at the South Korean border, foreign journalists saw that fields in the respective Rason and Kumgang zones were lush with crops, sometimes stretching over many acres.

"We had bad winter, and late spring, but the crops look good now," said a North Korean guide who escorted a group of foreign journalists on a rare trip through the areas this week. The harvest is due in October.

From the North Korean border post of Wonjong to the port of Sonbong, about 70 km (43 miles) away, the area had many fields of corn and rice. Maize was growing over a meter high in small plots around many of the small bungalow style houses in village compounds while communal rice fields sometimes stretched for acres.

Soybeans and potatoes are also grown in the area, the North Korean guide said. There was little livestock, but some healthy-looking cows were seen grazing. Three people were seen riding horses.   Continued...