Date: 02-19-2003

HONOLULU (Feb. 19) -- Kim Soon Kwon has visited North Korea close to 30 times since 1998 to "plant peace corn." His goal is not only to help the isolated country develop "super corn" seeds that will alleviate hunger and help the economy, but to eventually bring reconciliation to the Korean Peninsula.

Kim, a South Korean agricultural scientist known as "Dr. Corn," says his suggestions to North Koreans have been "very simple. Follow international rules and work with South Korea, the United States and Japan. But the tension is very great. They are very scared of the United States. They are so worried about the collapse of the regime. I tell them we are not going to kill you or destroy you."

Recipient of an East-West Center Distinguished Alumni Award, he gives this advice on ending the tense nuclear standoff: don't ignore North Korea, start talks; South Korea, Japan and the United States must speak with one strong voice and have a well-planned strategy; and find ways to help North Korea become a respected nation.

"If you become weak they will never give up," said Kim, president of the International Corn Federation who spoke at the East-West Center Feb. 11. "They are very strong but dangerous people."

On the other hand, Kim advises the United States and its allies to "find a way to respect them and help solve their problems" like food and electricity shortages. In turn, North Korea "must respect international society.

"It's important to build trust. I'm very confident we can open the North, but steadily and slowly." By proceeding the right way with North Korea, Kim expects "they will give up" their current nuclear buildup.

Kim, whose organization is funded by charitable contributions and the South Korean government, has been tough in his own dealings with North Koreans, telling them they must follow his suggestions on crop development if they want him to continue his work there. Like his earlier accomplishments in South Korea and Africa, he has helped North Koreans increase their corn yield and also convinced the government to allow farmers to keep a share of their harvest. He convinced farmers to rotate crops and has initiated competition among co-ops. North Korea hopes to export "super corn" seeds to China, he said. "I told the authorities that we have to feed the farmers first."

Kim's organization has sent corn seed, fertilizer and bicycles to farmers in North Korea, where Kim's wife was born. Although he is escorted, Kim says he has more freedom and access in the countryside than other foreigners. "The program has been very, very successful. I really respect them and want to help them. I give them frank advice. I was tough but I told them I was ready to die for unification."

Although Kim said life for farmers and the food situation have improved in recent years, the majority of North Koreans still only get a quarter of the nourishment they require, with most food reserved for the military and residents of Pyongyang, the capital. The 4 million tons of grain harvested annually falls about 1.5 million tons short of what is needed. "Twenty-year-old people look like 12 years old."

Kim Soon Kwon can be reached in Seoul by mobile phone at 82-16-638-1922, office 82-53-950-6707, or home 82-53-981-1922. He can be emailed at
This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center