Renjiaba Village was one of the two communities visited during the Shaanxi trip with Oxfam's partners in DPR Korea. Oxfam has spent about one million yuan on rehabilitation work here since 2010.
Text and photos by Arnold Fang
Oxfam works through partnerships, and there is no exception in the challenging operating environment of DPR Korea (or North Korea). Our main partner in DPRK is a government agency called the Korean Committee for the Promotion of International Trade (KCPIT). Oxfam has worked with KCPIT for nine years now, and has built a good working relationship with the agency despite the many limitations applied to aid agencies in the country.
We often seek to enrich our partners’ capacity through exposing them to successful examples of our work, often in a country other than their own. We thus decided to take our partners in DPRK on a learning visit to China. A delegation of seven people joined us on the trip, with three officials from KCPIT, and four representatives from two cooperative farms in which Oxfam has recently started working. It was particular encouraging to see both male as well as female representatives coming on this trip.
The visit in each community started with a time of exchange between the community leaders and the Korean delegation. The author, Arnold, is seen here introducing Oxfam's work in the community.
Among all our projects in China, we decided to show our Korean partners our rehabilitation work in Lueyang County of Shaanxi Province. The site suffered damages during the 5.12 Wenchuan Earthquake that happened five years ago. Through Oxfam’s office in Lanzhou, we have helped a few communities rebuild their lives from the damages. We hoped for our Korean partners to see for themselves our programme in Lueyang, which included both the rebuilding of village infrastructure as well as helping rural households increase their income through the support of livelihoods.
As we walked through the villages where Oxfam has worked in the last five years, we saw thriving communities with households specialising in different kinds of livelihoods ranging from tea processing, medicinal plants cultivation as well as mushroom growing. The Korean officials and farmers came to learn about the importance of a diversified farm economy, where not only grains are grown, but a healthy mixture of food crops and cash crops is emphasised.
Some villagers in Lueyang chose to grow crops with high economic value as their livelihood using the credit provided through Oxfam. An example is mushroom growing and drying.
Our Korean friends were especially interested in the various types of technologies used by their Chinese counterparts. They were very attentive when looking at the set up of rabbit farms, methane gas generators and solar water boilers. All these technologies are no rocket science, and with just a little creativity, can easily be transferred to the DPRK cooperative farm setting.
The trip was also a time of constant mutual learning and stimulation, as our Korean friends come from a socialist planned economy, while the staff at Oxfam come from an economy which is largely market-based. While being aware of the decollectivised and market-driven agricultural system in China, our Korean friends were also amazed by how individual households still chose to work together. Loosely-organized cooperatives formed between smallholder farmers were one way of cooperation; the Oxfam-supported community development fund was another.
With seed money support from Oxfam, the village households started managing among themselves a community development fund, which provided small, low-interest loans for households who wish to start small businesses. Households are also allowed to invest in the fund and collect dividends. Although initiatives such as these may be currently difficult in DPRK, it is nonetheless helpful to provide an alternative perspective on development, where households are empowered to pursue a venture of their own choice.
The Korean delegation visited various facilities, like the pig house pictured here, which were set up to improve the livelihood of the villages.
Although the DPRK economic system may be different from most other countries, we are in fact living in the same world where poverty and hunger knows no such differences. It is therefore important for poor people to be empowered in making decisions about how they could improve their lives. Upon their return to their country, our Korean partners have started talking to members of their farms in planning a proposal for Oxfam’s support in the next two to three years. Through the example of the Lueyang villages, we encouraged them to start thinking about a development plan for themselves where the community – women and men alike – can be broadly engaged.
Arnold Fang is Programme Officer – DPR Korea with Oxfam.
Oxfam Hong Kong began supporting agricultural and humanitarian initiatives in DPR Korea in 1997 and started implementing long-term development programmes with local partners in the country since 2005.