Operation Appleseed - North Korea Apple Tree Project

News and Press Release
Originally published
Four years of severe flooding and drought coupled with structural deficiencies in the agricultural system have created a food security crisis in North Korea. The annual food deficit of approximately 1,000,000 metric tons has been addressed by large donations of food commodities from the World Food Program, the US government and international humanitarian organizations in an effort to minimize the possibility of widespread famine. The ultimate goal is for North Korea to restore its ability to feed its people. International experts agree that North Korea must diversify its crops, introduce new varieties of seed, upgrade its agricultural technology and methods, increase mechanization and rebuild its irrigation system.
To support this effort, Mercy Corps International has launched the Apple Tree Project to establish a 10,000-apple tree orchard on a 480-acre farm in North Pyongan province in Spring 2000. This project builds on Mercy Corps' experience in supporting sustainable agricultural development in North Korea and worldwide. The project is being implemented in partnership with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Seed Council, the Oregon Potato Commission, and Evergreen International Airlines.

In consultation with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and North Korean counterparts, Mercy Corps has acquired five varieties of rootstock from Oregon-based Treco, Inc., the largest supplier of apple rootstock in the world. Mercy Corps will cooperate with farm managers and Department of Agriculture experts in the planting, cultivation and maintenance of the trees. The expected yield at first harvest is 40 lbs. of apples per tree for a total of 200 tons. At maturity, each tree is expected to yield approximately 220 lbs. for a total of 1,100 tons. This would have a US market value of $550,000.

The Oregon Seed Council will donate 500 lbs. of multiple-variety grass seed for a pilot seed project. Grass seed, a growing agent cultivated primarily in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon, provides several added benefits to tree planting and agricultural rehabilitation in areas damaged or threatened by extensive flooding, erosion and drought. Most significantly, grass seed serves as a growing agent that holds the planted trees in place and provides support throughout the maturation process.

Mercy Corps' Northeast Asia Project Director Dr. Ken Quinones and Senior Vice President Ellsworth Culver with apple trees in the cargo area of the Evergreen 747 bound for North Korea. San Francisco, California, March 14, 2000.

The Oregon Potato Commission will donate 10,000 lbs. of dehydrated potato flakes to this initiative. Reconstituted with water, a 140-gram serving will provide an individual with 120 calories. Each one-pound bag contains approximately 22 servings for a family of four. The Oregon Potato Commission is also donating trucking of the entire shipment from Oregon to San Francisco.

Evergreen International Airlines, in partnership with Evergreen Agricultural Enterprises, will donate a B747 freighter aircraft to transport the trees, grass seed and potato flakes from the United States directly to North Korea in March. Based in McMinnville, Oregon, and internationally recognized as a world leader in air freight and aviation services, Evergreen Aviation International is known for its long-term commitment to humanitarian service. This flight is the second non-military flight from the United States to North Korea in over 50 years. The approximate value of this operation is $400,000.


Under the leadership of Senior Vice President Ellsworth Culver, Mercy Corps has played an active role in providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea since 1996. Since then, Mercy Corps has delivered over $7 million in critically needed medicines and supplies, and assisted in monitoring over 300,000 metric tons of US Government-donated food. The Apple Tree Project is a key component of Mercy Corps International's longer-term goal of assisting in the rehabilitation of North Korea's agricultural infrastructure while supporting mutually beneficial exchange and cooperation between US and North Korean counterparts.


Full North Korea Program Profile

North Korea - Updated March 2000

Mercy Corps has played a lead role in providing humanitarian aid to North Korea since March 1996. Mercy Corps' goal is to avert widespread famine and starvation in North Korea, while laying the foundation for the prevention of future food emergencies. Our humanitarian efforts include food and medical aid, agricultural rehabilitation, education/advocacy, and increasing the exchange of visitors between North Korea and the United States.

Food and Medical Aid

Flooding, drought and a collapsed economy have led to four consecutive years of disastrous food shortages in North Korea. As a result, according to a 1998 WFP survey, 16% of North Korea's children suffer from acute malnutrition and 62% suffer from chronic malnutrition and moderate to severe stunting. Many children are also suffering from diseases associated with famine, including dysentery, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

To address the immediate food and medical needs, Mercy Corps has:

Shipped over $8.5 million worth of critically needed medicines and medical supplies and 120 metric tons (MT) of rice.
Provided 15,000 food and hygiene kits to beneficiaries along the China/North Korea border. Each kit contains enough food to sustain a family of four for up to three weeks. By January 2000, Mercy Corps will have reached approximately 50,000 people with this lifesaving aid.

Participated in establishing and funding the World Food Programme Food Aid Liaison Unit in Pyongyang to coordinate NGO shipments of food and medicine.

Distributed and monitored 230,000 metric tons of US food aid and $5 million worth of US medical supplies as part of a nine member US PVO Consortium that has sent 24 food monitors and medical experts into North Korea since 1997.

Agricultural Rehabilitation/Food Security

Natural disasters, extensive deforestation and fuel shortages have led to the deterioration of North Korea's agricultural infrastructure. Mercy Corps is committed to laying the foundation for long-term agricultural rehabilitation in North Korea and implementing programs that will lead to greater food security. Mercy Corps has:

  • Worked in collaboration with eight PVOs to send 1,000 metric tons of potato seed to four provinces throughout North Korea as part of a pilot seed potato initiative.
  • Developed a comprehensive proposal for barley seeds to introduce double-cropping in North Korea.
  • Shipped 140 MT of seeds, including barley, corn, soybean and green beans.
  • Organized a multi-year integrated farm project in 1997, providing necessary seeds, fertilizer, insecticide and fruit trees valued at over $215,000. Located in flood-damaged Unpa County, the Daechong Cooperative Farm demonstrates methods that increase food production and promote food security.
  • Organized the InterAction Agricultural Working Group (AWG) to coordinate efforts of NGOs with longer-term agricultural interests in North Korea. The AWG's first collaborative project sent 630 MT of barley seed to North Korea in February 1998. Including appropriate fertilizer, pesticides and sprayers, total project inputs were valued at over $750,000. The second collaborative project sent 350 MT of winter wheat in 1998.
  • Purchased and shipped 10,000 apple trees to establish an orchard on a 480-acre cooperative farm in North Pyongan province. Representatives of Mercy Corps and the Oregon Department of Agriculture provided technical assistance in the planting and maintenance of the trees.

Mercy Corps continues to emphasize coordinated action and an overall policy of engagement and continued humanitarian assistance to North Korea. To date, Mercy Corps has:

  • Worked closely with PVO Consortium and US government representatives to maintain a dialogue on US-DPRK relations and the need for continued humanitarian assistance to North Korea.
  • Assisted in the organization of an international conference in Beijing in May 1999 on the topic of NGO Humanitarian Assistance to North Korea.
  • Convened two U.S. conferences on humanitarian aid to North Korea: Musgrove I in December 1996 and Musgrove III in October 1998. These two conferences brought together people from the relief community to develop and evaluate strategies for responding to the humanitarian crisis in North Korea.
  • Co-convened Musgrove II, an international conference in Seoul, to open dialogue between South Korean NGOs, international NGOs and UN groups to catalyze collaborative efforts for immediate food aid to North Korea.
  • Assisted in the creation of Korean Americans for Global Action (KAFGA), an organization to mobilize second generation Korean Americans.
Delegations to DPRK

Ells Culver, Senior Vice President of Mercy Corps International, has visited North Korea more than a dozen times since July 1996 to assess damages and needs, monitor projects, discuss longer-term agricultural projects, negotiate increased monitoring of food shipments, and increase delegations to and from the DPRK. These visits have resulted in increased aid to North Korea from a wide variety of sources.

San Francisco Chronicle, "10,000 apple trees heading to North Korea"

Mercy Corps International
North Korea Relief, Dept. W
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208-2669

Ellsworth Culver
Senior Vice President
T: 503.796.6800 x 251
F: 503.241.2850 Claire Sneed
Assistant Program Officer
T: 503.796.6800 x 260
F: 503.796.6843

Mercy Corps International is a non-profit, voluntary agency which exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just comunities. Since 1979, Mercy Corps has provided over $450 million in assistance to more than 65 countries. Based in Portland, Seattle and Washington, DC, Mercy Corps is known nationally and internationally for its quick-response, high-impact programs. Over 94 percent of the agency's resources are allocated directly to programs that help the poor.