Conclusion About Climate Change And Energy Crisis

The eventual answer to the DPRK food production problem must be to attempt the transition to intensive organic agriculture; low levels of use of commercial energy sources and chemicals, a tight recycling of nutrients in combination with other methods of maintaining soil fertility, such as rotational systems, diversification of crops, and the development (return to!) integrated crop and livestock production systems. This has been attempted fairly successfully in Cuba in recent years.31

More generally, we can say the following concerning the cause of the DPRK food crisis:

Inability or unwillingness to participate in the global trading economy can cause difficulties in maintaining levels of commercial inputs necessary for continuous operation of a modern food-producing agricultural system.

The experience of the DPRK, and perhaps Cuba, points to several closely interlinked lessons that need to be learned by countries which currently operate a modern industrialized agricultural system based on commercial chemical and energy inputs. Agriculture has now become simply one adjunct of the overall economic-industrial matrix of the human global social-economic entity. This matrix is a highly complex web of financial and industrial relationships backed up by fairly precisely timed operations, such as transport of raw materials, fuel, components, and so on. Adjuncts to the matrix are therefore sensitive to disruptions and other irregularities. Thus the modern agricultural system can very quickly get into deep trouble if we do not have the ability to:

1. fuel, maintain, repair, and replace agricultural and distribution-related machinery and infrastructure (trucks, tractors, transplanters, harvesters, irrigation pumps, fuel and chemical delivery systems, and so on)

2. fuel, maintain, repair, and replace factories and factory equipment for the manufacture of vital agricultural machinery and inputs; for example, regularly replaced items such as spark plugs and filters, spare parts, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, plastic sheeting, and so on

3. ensure trade and transportation arrangements for steady supplies of fuel, raw materials, and feedstocks for agricultural operations and inputs, such as petroleum, natural gas, coal, potassium and phosphorus minerals, and so on.

Again, the final answer is to convert to low-input, yet land and labor intensive, organic farming. Crucially, this would require perhaps a tento twenty-year transition period, something the DPRK has not had the luxury of.

As a final general statement, it can be said that once a country takes the decision to abandon traditional agriculture and switch to a modern agricultural system (a mechanized system making use of commercial chemicals and fuels), then in order to maintain food production levels it is essential to ensure that levels of fuel and other inputs are maintained, and that machinery and equipment is kept in good working order. Shortages of fossil resources (oil, natural gas, and coal) can result in productivity collapses when soils are mined, and eventually destroyed, due to crop production without replacement of essential nutrients, and where agricultural machinery and equipment can no longer be kept operational because of lack of fuel and maintenance.

A transition to organic and/or traditional and sustainable forms of agriculture is not easily carried out quickly (for instance, due to lack of livestock and sufficient numbers of farmers with the requisite knowledge and skills). Meanwhile, the population must be fed; a population that has ballooned on food produced by the modern industrial agricultural system that has been built up thanks to fossil resources.32 This is now the paradoxical complex of problems faced by most of the world, including the great food-producing areas of North America, Europe, South America, and Oceania; the central element that has made high agricultural productivity possible, oil, is at the same time responsible for the deterioration of our most important resource, soil fertility. How do we now ensure the maintenance of that high productivity in the face of future energy shortages? The end of cheap and abundant oil and other fossil resources, symbolized by the peak in conventional oil extraction, probably occurring during this first decade of the twenty-first century, means the end of our current methods of food production, and thus it possibly spells the end of advanced industrial society as we know it. The DPRK is an exceptional case only in the sense that, due to political miscalculation and mismanagement of its economy, it has manifested these symptoms before fossil resource shortage becomes a serious concern for most of the world.


1. James H. Williams, David von Hippel, and Peter Hayes, "Fuel and Famine: Rural Energy Crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, IGCC Policy Papers, Paper No. 46, March 2000,, p. 1.

4. US Energy Information Administration (EIA), cabs/nkorea.html.

5. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," pp. 5-6.

6. EIA,

7. FAO, Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture, World Food Programme Special Report, FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment, Mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [henceforth FAO], 1998-2004, 1998/11, Section 2, english/alert/index.htm, accessed May 10, 2007.

8. Ibid.; 1999/11, Section 1; Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," p. 8.

9. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," p. 8.

11. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," pp. 9-11.

13. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," pp. 10-11.

15. Nicholas Eberstadt, The End of North Korea, AEI Press, Washington, 1999, p. 67; Australia, "Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) -Country Information - Democratic People's Republic of Korea - Economic Overview,"

16. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," p. 12.

22. FAO, 1998/6, Section 2.3; 1999/6, Section 2.2; 1999/11, Section 3.2.

23. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," pp. 7-8.

25. Williams et al., "Fuel and Famine," p. 13.

29. FAO, 1999/6, Section 2.2; 1999/11, Section 3.4.

30. Lindsay Beck, "North Korea Facing 1 Million Tonne Food Shortage - WFP," Reuters, March 26, 2007, PEK169861.htm, accessed May 10, 2007.

31. Peter Rosset and Medea Benjamin, eds., The Greening of the Revolution -Cuba's Experiment with Organic Agriculture, Ocean Press, Australia, 1994.

32. Vaclav Smil, "Global Population and the Nitrogen Cycle," Scientific American (July 1997), pp. 76-81.

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