Friday, February 11, 2011

North Korean Dependence on Oxen Increases Foot-And-Mouth Risks

North Korea’s dependence on animals to plow fields and haul harvests adds greater urgency to containing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease before planting begins in the country, already dependent on food handouts.

“Oxen are so important in North Korea’s agricultural industry that the government owns them all, while individuals can keep pigs,” said Kwon Tae Jin, vice president of the Korea Rural Economic Research in Seoul. “During the rice planting season you can see more oxen than tractors.” 

The outbreak of the contagious animal virus may disrupt farming in a nation where an estimated 2 million people died from famine in the mid-1990s and where flood damage to crops late last year exacerbated shortages. The disease may also mar plans to mark Kim Jong Il’s 69th birthday on February 16 and a pledge to put meat on every table. 

More than 10,000 draught oxen, milk cows and pigs have been infected with the disease, with thousands of them already dead, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization is discussing with the North’s government how it can help, the Rome-based agency’s regional office for Asia said today in an e-mailed response to inquiries by Bloomberg News.

“If North Korea fails to contain the virus before the planting season begins, it will disrupt farming with fewer animals to put to work,” Kwon, an economist specializing in North Korea’s agriculture industry, said today in a telephone interview. “That explains why they are in such a hurry to seek help from outside.” 

Using animals to transport crops and plow the land also raises the risk of spreading the virus if it isn’t contained by May, when planting begins in North Korea, he said. 


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