What happened to the cattle?
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Chung Ju-yung (1915-2001), the legendary founder and chairman of Hyundai Group, crossed the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom in a convoy of trucks carrying 501 Korean indigenous cattle, Hanwoo, on Oct. 27, 1998.
That was his second trip to North Korea following an earlier trip with 500 Hanwoo on June 16, which was covered live by CNN.
The blitzkrieg-like events choreographed by the chairman in appreciation of his hometown in North Korea for his marvelous success in South Korea after the war paved the way for South Koreans to tour Mount Kumgang near his hometown in the east coast.
Twenty three years have passed. If so, what happened to Chung’s 1,001 cattle by now? Did they become the seed to develop the primitive livestock industry in the North?
A cattle expert who traveled to North Korea in 2000 with the 400 dairy cows donated by a South Korean relief organization, said, “I heard many of them died just after the first winter season.”
Another expert who visited the North the following year to check on the health conditions of the cows joined the chorus by saying he was extremely frustrated to hear from a North Korean official that many of them died.
The other specialist said that a breeding bull donated to the North became skinny because of shortages of food. Most livestock experts attribute the deaths to a scarcity of corns for cattle, parasite-related diseases and very poor breeding environments.
Reliance on antibiotics without vaccines also could make the cattle vulnerable to animal diseases. When a herd of cattle moves, livestock specialists and veterinarians must accompany them and tend to the safety of the animals for a certain period of time. But it was impossible because of the North’s isolation.
If 1,001 heads of Korean native cattle and 400 dairy cows could not adapt to the local environment, it’s the same as sending beef to North Korea, instead of any means to develop North Korea’s outmoded livestock industry.
If it is not backed by breeding know-how transfers and infrastructure improvement, it cannot succeed. You must teach them how to fish instead of giving fish.
The severe malnutrition for North Korean children has reached a point of no return. “The time has come for us to resume the campaign to send milk to North Korean kids to brace for improved inter-Korean relations,” said Lee Seung-ho, chairman of the Korea Dairy & Beef Farmers Association. “That is a preinvestment in a unified country.”
Given the need to develop the cattle industry in North Korea to prepare for unification, we must carefully review what went wrong before.
What attracts our attention is a bold “experiment” by Heifer International, a U.S.-based NGO devoted to ending hunger and poverty around the world in a sustainable way. It is the organization that sent a large number of dairy cows, goats, pigs, hatching eggs and bees to South Korea shortly after the 1950-53 Korean War.
Heifer Korea, an affiliate of Heifer International, is pushing forward a project to send 101 heifers and two high-quality breeding bulls to Nepal. This is the first time for Korea to dispatch live cattle overseas.
An official in charge of developing breeding strategies at Dairy Cattle Genetic Improvement Center (DCIC) of the NongHyup Agribusiness Group said “Artificial insemination has been conducted on over 10,000 dairy cows on dairy farms in Uganda with frozen semen from Korean proven bulls we exported since 2015.”
“Such a project can give a chance for Korea to prove its sophisticated breeding technology,” he said.
In fact, the annual milk production of Korean dairy cows is 10,352 kilograms (22,822 pounds) ranked 4th in the world after Israel (1st), the United States (2nd) and Canada (3rd).
African countries are struggling to boost their milk production after the average size of children’s brains shrank due to insufficient intake of animal proteins.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, pleads for milk and cows in return for its rare earth metals, a key ingredient in smartphones. Nepal is no different.
“To localize South Korea’s excellent cattlefarming know-how, the Nepalese government plans to establish a Model Dairy Village in the Sindhuli district 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the southeast of Kathmandu,” said Haewon Lee, CEO of Heifer Korea. “Nepal is willing to send a charter plane to Korea to bring cattle, not simply frozen semen, home.”
When you transport living cows to a foreign country by air, you must go through a tough quarantine process in a sharp contrast with 1954, when Heifer International sent a gold medal-winning Holstein bull — worth $8,000 at the time — from America. After the foot-and-mouth disease spread globally, restrictions on cross-border cattle movement were reinforced.
Fortunately, Korea’s advanced animal quarantine system helps prevent the spread of many infectious animal diseases.
An increasing number of Koreans sharing the goodwill of Heifer Korea are taking part in donations. Ms. Ahn (61, female) who wants to remain anonymous donated 50 cows. She said, “I decided to donate part of our inheritance with my sister to respect the will of my mother, who valued life working as an obstetrician for 30 years in Seoul. I hope that rural villages in Nepal will also be able to raise cows that will become the source of their sustainable income and allow them to break free from poverty.”
Cattle farmers in Korea are also jumping on the bandwagon one after another. An 84-year-old dairy farmer, who started his cattle farm in 1973 with dairy cows received from Heifer International, donated a dairy cow, and a 74-year-old Lee Chung Ho, a dairy cattle farm owner in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, also plans to donate.
“My father started this ranch in 1957 with two Jersey cows he received, and now our farm has grown to raising 99 cows. I’m donating to thank and to give back.”
He emphasized, “It is not enough to simply send a few cows, but we need to help until they adjust themselves by passing on the know-how of breeding cows.”
Moon Jin-sup, President of Seoul Dairy Co-op, pledged to provide Korea’s cattle-farming expertise to the young Nepalese working at farms here so that they can propagate their knowledge and experience to their country.
Still, obstacles remain. The biggest problem is how to secure quality breeding bulls. The DCIC of the NongHyup Agribusiness Group is the only institution in Korea aimed at producing world-best breeding bulls. The center selects the best 60 calves each year and chooses five of them as finalists after undergoing strict progeny testing.
Nepal looks forward to shipping 20 breeding bulls from Korea as it needs a sufficient number of bulls to avoid the risk of inbreeding. The problem is their high prices. A 1.1-ton (2,491-pound) breeding bull born at the center in 2012 and named “BTS” is for about 500 million won ($425,170). The center retains only the top five breeding bulls out of 35 candidates.
There may be a good use for the rest for countries in need. The experiment of sending live cattle overseas has several implications. This could be an opportunity to raise Korea’s status by sharing our advanced livestock experiences with other countries. It can help establish a foothold to expand overseas markets for its dairy products starting with “K-Milk.” Thirty years after joining the United Nations in 1991, Korea was classified as a developed country by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) last July. The time has come for the country to give a helping hand to other countries in need.