News - October 11, 2012

Plant researcher acts as guide for mission in North Korea

Wageningen researcher to accompany Dutch trade mission. Jongsma paved the way for collaboration with North Korea.

Jongsma delivered lab equipment to North Korea in July. The head of the plant breeding institute, Tok-Yong Kim (left), suffers from Parkinson's disease.
His activities as a researcher became an opening for a relationship between the Netherlands and North Korea. It is thanks to those efforts that plant researcher Maarten Jongsma has a prominent role in the very first Dutch trade mission, which is leaving for North Korea in mid-October. Jongsma is visiting the communist country with representatives of the ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, and some vegetable and flower breeding companies. 'These companies are mainly interested in seeing what things are like there. I'm not expecting any quick deals,' says Jongsma, who has been to North Korea six times.
Maarten Jongsma heads a project to make North Korean potatoes resistant to the disease Phytophthora. A North Korean PhD student in Wageningen has isolated genes for resistance to the disease and another North Korean has tested varieties with and without resistance genes. 'The results are very positive,' says Jongsma. 'For instance, they tested the Desiree variety in North Korea. The yield without resistance genes was 9 tons per hectare, as opposed to 34 tons with the genes. Normally they harvest between 10 and 20 tons per hectare.'
Jongsma was in North Korea only last July to deliver a container full of lab equipment from Wageningen. 'They were really pleased with it because they have a big shortage of lab equipment. They have become more accessible since then.'  Jongsma also had vegetable seeds with him in preparation for the trade mission, so that they could test them.
One pleasant surprise was that all the staff in the plant breeding lab were suddenly able to speak English. 'On my previous visit I had pointed out to them that they really needed to learn English as otherwise it would make collaborative projects difficult. So they formed a class of 20 members of staff, who now attend English lessons three times a week.'