New sanctions on North Korea: An act of war by any measure

Global Research, July 16, 2016
north korea flag globalresearch.ca

International law prohibits the use of food as a weapon. However, the new sanctions declared by the United States drastically inhibit the ability of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to export coal and other commodities on the international market. The new sanctions are part of long history of the United States attacking North Korea’s economy and harming its ability to provide food for the population.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, US leaders have continuously inhibited the ability of the DPRK to maintain its agriculture system while simultaneously accusing the country’s leaders of “starving their own people.” 

Struggling for Agricultural Self-Reliance

The Korean Peninsula has been divided since 1945. The flat lands that can be used for growing food are mainly in the southern part of the country, where tens of thousands of US troops prop up the Republic of Korea.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has control of the mountainous regions.  Socialism has taken hold in the hills and valleys where Kim Il Sung (whose name means ‘becomes the sun’) fought the Japanese occupiers for decades as a beloved folk hero. Kim Il Sung came to lead the Korean Worker Party which calls for Peaceful Re-Unification of the Korean Peninsula, and has established a centrally planned, Soviet-style economy.

While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has very little arable land, it has plenty of mineral resources. The overwhelming majority of the coal deposits on the Korean Peninsula can be found in the northern regions.

In 1953, when an armistice ended the fighting in the Korean War, one of the greatest challenges facing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was its lack of arable land. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the DPRK constructed a vast coal mining and steel manufacturing apparatus. The DPRK exported coal to other socialist countries in exchange, not just for food, but for the resources to advance its own domestic agricultural system.

Though the DPRK could import food from the COMECON bloc of countries led by socialist governments, this was still a weakness. Kim Il Sung and the Korean Workers Party emphasized “Juche,” or “self-reliance” and pushed the country to carry out the very difficult task of ending reliance on food imports. The stated goal was “food independence.” The DPRK began constructing wheat fields on the sides of mountains, making huge efforts to grow food in mountainous regions and ending the reliance on imported food.

According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, the DPRK achieved food and energy self-sufficiency by the 1970s. David Barkin, a researcher for the Institute for Food and Development Policy, visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1986 and was amazed at what he saw. He published a short booklet on the DPRK’s agricultural policies, and urged the United Nations to help Latin American countries where food production remained sub-par to adopt an agricultural system similar to what was done in the DPRK.

Though the DPRK became food self-sufficient in the 1970s, the agriculture in North Korea depended on one specific import. In order for the highly complex food system to work, it needed lots of petroleum.

The DPRK imported oil from the Soviet Union, and used it to power its tractors as they climbed through rocky areas, plowing artificially constructed fields. Soviet oil enabled the DPRK to transport food to more remote parts of the country which were far from any arable land.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, along with the various socialist governments of Eastern Europe, the international oil markets were dramatically altered. The DPRK could no longer purchase oil from the Soviet Union. With COMECON no longer in existence, OPEC was dominated by US and British aligned governments, and mandated that the purchasing of oil only be done with US dollars. The DPRK was also unable to continue exporting coal and other products like it once had.

The highly efficient, but oil-dependent agricultural system of the DPRK then came to a grinding halt. The country experienced a horrific food crisis as US sanctions prevented the DPRK from acquiring the US dollars needed to buy petroleum on the international market, and use it to grow food.

While US officials continue to talk of the DPRK “starving its own people” they fail to mention that the food crisis of the 1990s was imposed on the country by economic sanctions and the inability to buy oil. It’s not Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il who starved the Korean people in the early 1990s. The food crisis was created by the policies imposed on the country.

This period is known as the “Arduous March” by Koreans because it was so difficult for the people. The World Food Program, various religious groups, and other charities helped to relieve those who were starving to death. People from the southern part of the Korean peninsula participated in providing humanitarian assistance to their northern countryfolk, and were imprisoned for their efforts under the autocratic National Security Laws of the Republic of Korea. South Korea’s National Security Laws have been widely condemned as inconsistent with international standards of human rights and civil liberties.

Economic Warfare Against the Korean People

As a starvation swept the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, the administration of former US President Bill Clinton reached an agreement with the DPRK which allowed the country to receive some oil imports in exchange for not developing nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration also agreed to assist the DPRK in developing peaceful nuclear energy, as long as arms inspectors were allowed to monitor the sites and ensure that they were not working to develop nuclear weapons.

Following Sept. 11th, 2001, the administration of former US President George W. Bush described the DPRK as part of the “Axis of Evil.” The oil shipments were terminated. At this point, the DPRK withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and began actively developing nuclear weapons—a choice that seems quite logical based on the betrayal of the previous agreement.

Since that time, the DPRK’s agricultural system seems to gradually be recovering and adapting. Political shifts on the global stage have enabled the DPRK to import oil outside of the official OPEC market. Food is also being imported. In 2013, Tom Morrison, an agronomist with the World Food Program, predicted that the DPRK will achieve food self-sufficiency at some point in the near future. The DPRK has experienced substantial economic growth in the last few years, with a boom in housing construction and talk of joint ventures with foreign corporations.

The announcement by US officials of new sanctions on the DPRK, crippling its ability to export coal, was described as a “declaration of war” by North Korean leaders. This is not some wild, extreme claim or accusation.

The DPRK is trying to repair its economy from the disaster of the 1990s. Preventing the DPRK from selling coal on the international markets is, in essence, taking food from the mouths of Korean people. This is an act of economic warfare, and the Korean people are greatly outraged by it.

US leaders are economically strangling the DPRK, and say they are doing it because of concerns about “human rights.” At the same time US oil companies continue to do business with the most blatantly autocratic and repressive dictatorships on earth in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The US sells weapons and props up the economies of brutal absolute monarchies where even basic notions of human rights do not exist, while continuing to threaten the DPRK based on allegations about labor camps.

According to even its harshest critics, the government in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula has a constitution and voting, while providing universal housing to the population. These facts alone put the DPRK miles ahead of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates in terms of human rights.

The blatant hypocrisy of US leaders, who sabotage the DPRK’s economy and then tell the world that Kim Jong-Un is “starving his own people” is astonishing. There is no reason that the DPRK should not be able to sell its products on the world market like any other country. The harsh response of the DPRK to the new sanctions should not be shocking to anyone.

Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Putin wants Russia to become “the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food” — GMOs are banned

From RT
December 4, 2015

Russia could become the world’s largest supplier of ecologically clean and high-quality organic food, said President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. He also called on the country to become completely self-sufficient in food production by 2020.

© Eduard Korniyenko

“We are not only able to feed ourselves taking into account our lands, water resources – Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing,” said Putin, addressing the Russian Parliament on Thursday.

According to the President, Russia is now an exporter, not an importer of food.

“Ten years ago, we imported almost half of the food from abroad, and were dependent on imports. Now Russia is among the exporters. Last year, Russian exports of agricultural products amounted to almost $20 billion – a quarter more than the revenue from the sale of arms, or one-third the revenue coming from gas exports,” he said.

Putin said that all this makes Russia fully capable of supplying the domestic market with home-grown food by 2020.

In September, the Kremlin decided against producing food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Russia imposed an embargo on the supply of products from the EU and the United States as a response to Western sanctions. After Turkey shot down Russian Su-24 bomber, Russian authorities decided to ban the import of fruit, vegetables and poultry from Turkey. The ban will take effect from January 1.

https://www.rt.com/business/324605-russia-putin-healthy-food/

Also:

https://www.rt.com/usa/321630-oakland-monsanto-contamination-lawsuit/

https://www.rt.com/news/317638-eu-gmo-cultivation-opt-out/

 

Who owns agricultural land in Ukraine?

From Oakland Institute
By Elizabeth Fraser

The fate of Ukraine’s agricultural sector is on shaky ground. Last year, the Oakland Institute reported that over 1.6 million hectares (ha) of land in Ukraine are now under the control of foreign-based corporations. Further research has allowed for the identification of additional foreign investments. Some estimates now bring the total of Ukrainian farmland controlled by foreign companies to over 2.2 million ha;1 however, research has also identified important grey areas around land tenure in the country, and who actually controls land in Ukraine today is difficult to ascertain.

The companies and shareholders behind foreign land acquisitions in Ukraine span many different parts of the world. The Danish “Trigon Agri,” for example, holds over 52,000 ha. Trigon was established in 2006 using start-up capital from Finnish “high net worth individuals.” The company is traded in Stockholm (NASDAQ), and its largest shareholders include: JPM Chase (UK, 9.5 percent); Swedbank (Sweden, 9.4 percent); UB Securities (Finland, 7.9 percent); Euroclear Bank (Belgium, 6.6 percent); and JP Morgan Clearing Corp (USA, 6.2 percent).

The United Farmers Holding Company, which is owned by a group of Saudi Arabian investors, controls some 33,000 ha of Ukrainian farmland through Continental Farmers Group PLC.

AgroGeneration, which holds 120,000 ha of Ukrainian farmland, is incorporated in France, with over 62 percent of its shares managed by SigmaBleyzer, a Texas-based investment company.

US pension fund NCH Capital holds 450,000 ha. The company began in 1993 and boasts being some of the earliest western investors in Ukraine after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Over the past decade, the company has systematically leased out small parcels of agricultural land (around two to six hectares in size) across Ukraine, aggregating these into large-scale farms that now operate industrially. According to NCH Capital’s General Partner, George Rohr, the leases give the company the right to buy the currently-leased farmland once the moratorium on the sale of land in Ukraine is lifted.

Another subset of companies have Ukrainian leadership, often a mix of domestic and foreign investment, and may be incorporated in tax havens like Cyprus, Austria, and Luxembourg. Some of them are also led by Ukrainian oligarchs. For instance, UkrLandFarming controls the country’s largest land-bank, totalling 654,000 ha of land. 95 percent of the shares of UkrLandFarming are owned by multi-millionaire Oleg Bakhmatyuk with the remaining five percent having been recently sold to Cargill.  Similarly, Yuriy Kosiuk, Ukraine’s fifth richest man, is the CEO of MHP, one of the country’s largest agricultural companies, which holds over 360,000 ha of farmland.

With the onset of the political crisis, several of these mostly Ukrainian-based companies have descended into crisis themselves. One example is Cyprus-incorporated Mriya Agro Holding, which holds a land-bank of close to 300,000 ha. In 2014, the company’s website (which is no longer available online) indicated that 80 percent of the shares of Mriya Agro Holding are/were owned by the Guta family (Ukrainian), who hold primary leadership positions in the company. The remaining 20 percent are/were listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

According to news sources, in summer 2014 the company defaulted on its payments for two large Eurobonds, putting its future into question. The company first enlisted the support of US-based Blackstone Group and Ukrainian-based Dragon Capital, both of whom withdrew support after only one month; and later, the international auditing and financial service firm, Deloitte. An international bondholder committee was struck, comprised of several US and UK-based investment groups (including CarVal Investors – Cargill’s investment arm), which together own over 50 percent of the debt owed on Mriya’s 2018 Eurobonds and 15 percent of the 2016 Eurobonds. The future of this firm is unclear with some sources suggesting a risk of bankruptcy.

Other Ukrainian-owned companies incorporated in tax havens are also experiencing difficulties. Sintal Agriculture Public Ltd (based in Cyprus, traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange as of 2008, and holding almost 150,000 ha of land) ceased trading in shares on January 29, 2014 “until further notice” after bankruptcy proceedings were initiated against the company. In 2013, its website (now also defunct) indicated that 36.3 percent of the company was free floating shares.

The potential bankruptcy of these corporations, and the involvement of Western investors in the crisis management, raises questions about the fate of the agricultural land they hold. At this time, it is not clear how control over the agricultural lands in question will be addressed and what the role of foreign companies and funds who have invested in these companies will be. However, if things progress in a similar way to neighboring Romania, foreign control of this land could transpire.

Romania has a similar story of dissolving collectivized farms, giving land titles to collective farm workers, and imposing a moratorium on the sale of agricultural land. Loopholes in the country’s national legislation have created opportunities for foreign control of land via bankruptcy proceedings. As documented by Judith Bouniol, the bankruptcy of national agribusinesses has provided a gateway for foreign control of Romania’s farmland.

It is far from clear if the same scenario could take place in Ukraine. However, this lesson from Romania emphasizes the importance of keeping close watch on these agricultural land deals. In addition, the murky situation around land ownership in Ukraine raises many questions. Perhaps the most important is whether the growing concentration of Ukrainian land in the hands of a few oligarchs and foreign corporations can benefit the country, its people, and its economy.

Note

1 Two land investment databases were accessed over the past year: the Land Matrix accessed in July 2014 and April 2015, and GRAIN’s 2012 data set on land investments worldwide. Taken individually, these databases suggest foreign land acquisitions of between 997,000 ha to 1.7M ha. When consolidated, individual deals reported by these databases represent over 2.2M ha of land in Ukraine.

http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/who-owns-agricultural-land-ukraine

“Ukraine will cease being an agricultural country,” says Ukrainian economist

Posted on Fort Russ
2/12/2015

Ukraine, having lost its industry, is now also losing agriculture: Ukrainian Economist.

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The agriculture of a country once considered the Soviet Union’s granary is now facing the heaviest crisis since independence.

Ukraine is risking a totally failed sowing season for the first time since it gained independence, since the agricultural sector is facing many unresolved problems, argues Ukrainian economist Aleksandr Koltunovich.

“The state of Ukraine’s economy in 2015 shows that agriculture had disappeared from the list of main budget-forming branches of the economy, even though it was one of the institutional foundations for the development of many other sectors of the country’s economy,” Koltunovich sums up last year’s depressing results.

The agricultural sector is facing major problems of internal and international nature: the rapid devaluation of the hryvnya will increase agribusiness losses. “The 2015 sowing campaign is still ahead of us, and the price of fuel and lubricants is rigidly tied to the course of the dollar. Therefore all expenditures on fuel and on the actual sowing have to come out of someone’s pocket, either the farmer’s or the state’s. One way of the other, this will affect the consumer. Therefore Ukraine faces the possibility of having a failed sowing campaign for the first time since it gained independence,” argues Koltunovich.

Weak leadership by Ukraine’s government also played a major role. “There are many other problems in agriculture, just as in the economy as a whole. One has to keep in mind Ukraine still has considerable untapped potential in its agriculture. But if all leadership positions in agriculture-related agencies are occupied by such ‘effective and talented’ management as we have had and still have, then Ukraine’s agriculture will also ‘go far’. Just as it ceased being an industrial country, it will cease being an agricultural one as well,’ Koltunovich concludes.

J.Hawk’s Comment: But why bother with restoring the industry or the agriculture, if it is so much easier, and considerably more glamorous, to wage a “short victorious war” or two? One of the crucial factors that pushed the junta into a conflict with Russia was the magnitude of the problems the country was facing, which was compounded by the leadership’s inability to cope with them. But the war only accelerated the economy’s collapse—it’s unlikely Kiev could manage another major military campaign this year, now that it’s debt has skyrocketed, the hryvnya has collapsed, and gold and currency reserves have evaporated. Ironically, the end result is a country that is far less likely to be accepted into European institutions than it was on the eve of the Maidan. 

 

http://fortruss.blogspot.com/2015/02/ukraine-will-cease-being-agricultural.html