North Korea applies new knowledge in water management
Less soil degradation and more agricultural output
21 April 2005, Rome - North Korea (DPRK) is applying knowledge gained from a forestry project on sustainable development of upland water catchments and use of marginal agricultural land to help reduce soil erosion, protect natural resources and increase agricultural output in the country, FAO said today.
"In a country that largely depends on agriculture for self-sufficiency and has seen its agricultural production devastated by floods and droughts in the recent past, an integrated and participatory approach to watershed management is essential," said Thomas Hofer, an FAO forestry expert.
"Applying watershed management throughout the country, planting trees in the uplands and developing integrated approaches to the use of natural resources will help diminish soil degradation and the dangers of downstream sedimentation," Hofer said.
Trees help retain water in the soil, preventing water from flowing downstream all at once during heavy rains and keep moisture in the soil during low rainfall. Their roots also cling to the soil, making it more difficult for soil to erode.
Forests, soil erosion and agricultural output
Soil erosion and sedimentation from floods and droughts between 1994 and 2000 have caused massive destruction and reduced the country's agricultural output in the last decade. In 1995 and 1996 alone, 16 percent of its arable land was damaged by floods The floods also destroyed irrigation and transportation infrastructure as well as 30 out of 90 tree nurseries.
To compensate for the drop in agricultural output, forests have been extensively exploited and converted into agricultural land on steep slopes of marginal lands, which are vulnerable to soil erosion. Forests were also felled for fuelwood and to earn foreign currency from the sale of forest products.
As a consequence, one quarter of North Korea's non-agricultural land on hills and mountains is bare today.
Tree nurseries and training
To put an end to this vicious cycle and offset the progressively diminishing forest quality and agricultural output, in 2001 FAO launched at the request of the government a watershed management project to reverse degradation of upland resources by addressing the decline of natural forest cover.
FAO has also helped the government to analyze the situation of upland resources, to collect data on forest land degradation and to identify measures to conserve and develop forest and other natural resources. It has rehabilitated damaged nurseries and established new ones for reforestation. Two small-scale pilot and demonstration sites for long-term management of watersheds have been established and country people have been trained to apply their newly-gained knowledge from the sites for replication elsewhere.
Based on the experience of the project, North Korea is now developing a watershed management plan for the Taedong River, which flows through the capital, Pyongyang.
"By applying elsewhere what we have learned from the pilot sites, we hope to see sustainable use of natural resources and greater agricultural output in the country," Hofer said.
Information Officer, FAO
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