Centre scientists among first to evaluate DPR Korea’s agroforestry

Chris Mesiku

In a world first, World Agroforestry Centre scientists have collaborated with other partners to analyse DPR Korea’s participatory agroforestry project. Their evaluation and recommendations have been published in the Agroforestry Systems journal. Korea’s participatory agroforestry consists of many farmers who are members of government initiated user groups.

It is reported that the livelihoods of farmers belonging to these user groups have improved partly because the groups have been able to obtain rights-to-use, rights-to-harvest and rights-to-plan or access sloping lands for tree products and food. The user groups which operate under a participatory process were established in collaboration with the Centre and other partners. According to the scientists, the user groups have played a crucial role in reversing Korea’s chronic food shortage.

 Xu Jian Chu, lead author of the report and head of the East Asia Node of the Centre, says that, “The emergence of agroforestry as a way of managing sloping land highlights how food technology innovations can take root once social and institutional constraints to land access have been reduced.”

In the early 2000s, the Korean Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection introduced the Sloping Land Management project in order to reverse land degradation and increase overall yields and generate more income from mountains and hills. Working through partners, the project helped establish user groups, designed agroforestry systems and implemented agroforestry trials while monitoring and evaluating each stage of the project.

By 2011, several hundred sloping-land user groups had been established. These groups targeted those who were adversely affected by the lack of access to Korea’s public food distribution system.

The user groups obtained rights-to-use, rights-to-harvest and rights-to-plan or access sloping lands for tree products and food. All three rights were novel in DPR Korea and jointly contributed to the success of the program, together with active research support from agricultural and forestry scientists.

The user groups jointly participated with scientists in selection of agroforestry species and design of trials. The groups then implemented these trials with no financial assistance.

 “We wanted the groups to continue to be self-supporting if trials proved successful. We only provided technical support on a regular basis,” says Xu Jian Chu.

 The results were that the tree cover on the lands controlled by the user groups increased and land productivity is now substantially higher.

“Despite these improvements, this participatory agroforestry approach had never been analysed,” said Xu.

In 2011, a national workshop was finally held to look at the lessons learned from the project. During the event, participants recommended nine practices that would spread the benefits of the project throughout the nation. These included countrywide agroforestry demonstrations, innovations in double-cropping annual food crops with non-competitive foods or high timber, use of geographic information technology and agroforestry education.

Participants at the workshop concluded that the transformation of lives and landscapes through agroforestry was only possible where ecological, economic, social and institutional policies combined to support innovations.

Indeed, in DPR Korea agroforestry is now influencing policy planning through feedback from the Sloping Land Management project’s trials and summaries from national workshops such as that held in 2011.

Broad support for agroforestry practices has now emerged within the Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection as well as a number of universities and research centres. Agroforestry is now increasingly recognized in DPR Korea as a viable alternative for sloping land management. Agroforestry supports the country’s priorities in environmental protection, food security and livelihoods.

The report in Agroforestry Systems recommends that, in the future, agroforestry could also be applied to certain land degradation problems on flatland cooperative farms. However, expanding successful programs will depend on the continued opening of land-use rights beyond sloping land for local people.

Access the press release.

You can access the document online here: DOI 10.1007/s10457-012-9501-0.