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Agricultural land heavily exploited

Land for agricultural production in the Democratic People’s Republic (DPR) of Korea is extremely limited. In the past it has been heavily exploited, leading to serious degradation requiring high amounts of inputs to sustain production levels. In 1990, the DPR Korea suffered a series of natural disasters while at the same time the supply of production inputs from the former Soviet Union ceased. This seriously affected agricultural production and food security in the DPR Korea, leading to food shortage in the country. During this time, the double cropping programme which was expected to enhance agricultural production was introduced - it however led to further exploitation of the soil resources. In addition, the agricultural mechanization infrastructure was affected by shortages of fuel and spare parts resulting in serious bottlenecks in achieving timely operations in the field.

Sustainable Agricultural production through Conservation Agriculture

As a result, FAO was requested to provide technical assistance in the introduction of Conservation Agriculture to address the problems in agricultural production in the DPR Korea. Through this programme, the soil structure was improved with visible signs of improvement evident in the first two years of the project. It further promoted the elimination of soil tillage, the maintenance of a permanent soil cover, varied crop rotation, a reduction in fertilizer requirements and significant savings in labour, time and fuel. In addition, conservation agriculture promoted the efficiency of the double cropping programme which enabled the production of both summer and winter crops, which had previously been limited by labour and fuel shortages. Through conservation agriculture, erosion risk was reduced and production was stabilized. The shortage of land for food production had resulted in the encroachment of agriculture into forest and slope areas increasing the risk of erosion and destabilization of agricultural production.

The FAO project TCP/DRK/2903 introduced conservation agriculture first in three strategic cooperative farms. Equipment for direct seeding and planting of crops, for covercrop and weed management and for harvesting was introduced, along with some covercrop seeds and herbicides. Partnership consultants from Brazil and China, as well as FAO technical staff visited the project farms frequently and provided intensive hands-on training. In addition, a number of extensive theoretical and practical training programmes promoting conservation agriculture were provided to the project farms and to other cooperative farms in the country by the Ministry of Agriculture together with the Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Study tours for project staff were organized to Brazil and to China. A Korean Conservation Agriculture Manual was produced, of which a second revised and expanded edition is being prepared.

Each farm introduced conservation agriculture on about 50 ha of land in different brigades and in different crops, mainly in maize and soya as summer crops and wheat as winter crop, and also rice in the irrigated lowlands. Due to some initial delays the project was extended into a third year and it ended at the end of 2005. At the end of the project, positive results were yielded: the soils under conservation agriculture recovered visibly with soil structure, moisture, soil organic matter values and nutrient levels improving. The erosion was significantly reduced. Yields started to rise. The ministry of agriculture adopted a policy to actively promote conservation agriculture.

A development which can achieve food security

With donor funds, additional equipment was purchased, which allowed further expansion of conservation agriculture to a total of 20 farms which apply it on about 2,000 ha of land with increasing success. Many farms which participated in the training are keen to adopt conservation agriculture and start experimenting even in the absence of the required equipment. Thus techniques for no-tillage direct seeding and transplanting of rice without puddling were developed, resulting in increased yields and significant savings in fuel and labour. Several farms are experimenting with good results with no-tillage potato, grown on the soil surface under a cover of rice straw as double crop with rice.

Conservation Agriculture was also applied to horticulture crops such as cabbage, which is a very important food crop in Korea. The surface mulching resulted in much higher yields and irrigation water savings in cabbage. Other farms started to produce with their own technical means prototypes of no-till seeders once they had understood the principles of conservation agriculture and had seen the commercial equipment at work. Initial conflicts between leaving the crop residues as mulch or using them as fuel or for other purposes were overcome in most cases once the benefits of the surface mulching in terms of weed control and soil improvements were seen by the farmers. Alternative fuels in the form of coal were provided by the cooperative managements to facilitate the retention of the residues in the field. Conservation Agriculture has under these dramatic conditions shown an impressive impact and the FAO TCP project has initiated a development which hopefully can assist the country to achieve food security and sustainable agricultural production in the future.

Korean Farmer showing the no-till potatoes.

Seeding of winter wheat into maize stubble immediately after harvest.

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