An Air China cargo plane leaves Portland International Airport on Febuary 26 for Pyongyang, North Korea loaded with 73 boxes carrying 100,000 high-quality apple tree rootstocks as part of Mercy Corps' ongoing Apple Tree Project, which was launched in 2000 and has been recognized as a model program for sustainable agricultural development in that country.
"This shipment of rootstocks will allow farmers in North Korea's Qwail County to significantly expand their orchards," says Simon Miller, Mercy Corps' Apple Tree project manager. "By providing rootstocks, rather than a complete tree, we help local farmers build their knowledge of what it takes to manage an orchard so that in the long run we help foster greater self-sufficiency that lessens our need for involvement over time."
The rootstocks will be grafted onto branch cuttings from trees that Mercy Corps previously delivered to Qwail (translates as "fruit" in Korean) County, which is in the southwestern part of North Korea. Once a rootstock has been grafted it can be planted and produce a completely new tree that is highly productive and resistant to drought and disease. Apples grown in this region are used for juice or kept whole for consumption.
The apple tree rootstocks were purchased at a reduced price from an Oregon company, Meadow Lake Nursery near McMinnville. Meadow Lake is making an in-kind donation of apple trees worth $10,000 that will ship to North Korea at a later date.
Since March 2000, Mercy Corps has sent three other shipments that totaled 71,000 apple trees. Agricultural aid has also included: 65,000 pounds of fertilizer, three windmills, 15,000 pounds of grass and alfalfa seed, and 23,000 pounds of vegetable seed (potato, barley, wheat, corn, soybean and green beans). All of this is part of the agency's long-term commitment to help North Korea increase its food security.
Mercy Corps began its involvement in North Korea in 1996 when severe drought and famine lead to the death of at least two million people, which the country has never really recovered from and thus remains dependent on international food aid.