Kim Soon Kwon

Kim Soon Kwon
▪ 2000

      By 1999 the devastating famine in North Korea had claimed an estimated 100,000 to 3,000,000 lives. As the global community pondered ways to help the country end its food shortage, one possible solution came from an unlikely source: a South Korean agricultural scientist named Kim Soon Kwon. Nicknamed “Doctor Corn” for his work in developing high-yielding, disease-resistant corn hybrids, Kim proposed initiating a corn-breeding project in North Korea aimed at doubling the country's corn output—a goal which, if attained, would not only alleviate the famine but would, Kim believed, plant the “seeds of reunification” on the Korean peninsula.

      Kim was born on May 1, 1945, in Ulsan, South Kyongsang Province, S.Kor. After graduating from Ulsan Agricultural High School and Kyongbuk National University, Taegu, he earned an M.S. from Korea University, Seoul. In 1974 he earned a Ph.D. in horticulture from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. In the late 1970s he directed a national program in South Korea credited with tripling corn production in the country.

      From 1979 to 1995 Kim worked for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), conducting extensive research in Nigeria. He was successful in developing corn resistant to an array of parasites, insects, and diseases, including maize streak virus and a virulent killer weed called striga. His hybrid techniques produced phenomenally high-yielding crops and were environment-friendly, allowing farmers to avoid the conventional use of chemicals to control agricultural pests.

      Kim returned to South Korea at the end of 1995 as professor of plant hybridization and director of the International Agricultural Institute at Kyongbuk National University. As the food shortage in North Korea reached a critical point, he broached the idea of a “Corn for Peace” project. Kim explained that North Korea possessed all the necessary conditions for growing corn—for example, the country was on the same latitude as the U.S. Corn Belt and had a high fluctuation between day- and nighttime temperatures, which was ideal for corn—yet because of the North's limited technology, its corn yield was less than half that of the U.S. Kim's assertions that his project could increase North Korea's corn production by more than two million tons as well as foster good relations between North and South were well-received by leaders of both countries. Since 1995 Kim had been allowed to visit North Korea 10 times in order to collect data on the country's soil and climate. In 1999 he visited the North six times, and by the end of the year his corn-breeding techniques were being tested in some 1,000 North Korean cooperative farm units.

Ki-Suk Ahn

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Universalium. 2010.

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