Published on 05/21/01

North Koreans Study UGA Agricultural Research

Five representatives of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Academy of Agricultural Sciences spent two weeks learning about agricultural research from University of Georgia specialists in Athens, Griffin and Tifton.

"This is an historic event," said Ed Kanemasu, coordinator of international programs for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "This is the first time the Academy ... has sent representatives to the United States. Agriculture is a common ground. Everybody has to eat."

Exchanging Ideas

The North Korean delegation, through this and future visits, hopes to exchange advanced food-producing technologies and benefit their country, which has endured six years of famine due to natural disasters.

Photo:Brad Haire

Agricultural scientist from Korea learn about Georgia irrigation practices from Kerry Harrison, UGA CAES irrigation engineer.

The North Koreans have food shortages, and the United States has the technology to help in the country's effort to feed its people. In return, they have germ plasm that could benefit the United States, Kanemasu said.

The delegation arrived May 7. Asking questions and taking notes, they were shown poultry, horticultural, row crop, irrigation, genetic and other research by CAES scientists.

Kim Sam Ryong, DPRK AAS deputy president, said through an interpreter that North Korea hopes to continue relations between the two institutions.

"The University of Georgia is one of the biggest state universities in the United States, and it is very good in bioengineering and poultry," Kim said. "Georgia has a lot of achievement in broiler production. Also, you've got pecan trees, which could be similar (to producing) hazelnuts in Korea."

Hardy Science

The North Korean group wants to develop hardy, nutritional food varieties. UGA potato research was a high priority.

"They have an area where the sweet potato grows very well," said Stan Kays, a CAES horticulturist. "They're interested in it as a viable field crop. President Kim Jong Il wants them to increase potato and sweet potato production."

Photo:Brad Haire

Kim Sam Ryong, deputy president of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in DPRK, inspects a recently irrigated corn field on the UGA CAES Tifton Experiment Station.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are hardy crops. They grow underground, produce high yields and are less vulnerable to sudden changes in weather, Kays said.

Kays has given tissue samples of a new UGA sweet potato to China and North Korea. The potato is easy to grow like a sweet potato, but doesn't have the sweet taste. Scientists there can cross this breeding line with established local varieties and have the best of both worlds: a versatile, easy-to-grow crop, he says.

"We especially enjoy the production of potatoes and sweet potatoes," Kim said. "The Koreans should carry out what we call the Potato Revolution."

Mutual Benefit

Last October, Kays and Kanemasu were part of a UGA delegation lead by CAES Dean and Director Gale Buchanan. The U.S. delegation was invited and hosted by the DPRK AAS.

"The conclusion of the discussions," Kanemasu said, "was that if we work together, we can get much benefit for people of both countries."

"They were our host when we were there," he said, "and we are hosting them here with the idea of trying to enhance their agricultural technology and also see an exchange of agricultural ideas to us."

With plans for future visits back to Georgia, the group returned to North Korea May 18.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.