Agglobe’s Story

In 1987, Dr. Pilju Kim Joo met Reverend Syngman Rhee, then director of the New York Office of the United Presbyterian Church. He described the growing food shortages in North Korea and asked for her help as a seed scientist in improving corn seed. The following year, Dr. Kim Joo received a telephone call at her home in Minneapolis from the United Nations DPRK Mission. They were extending an invitation to her and her husband, an animal husbandry expert, to travel to North Korea and help them develop higher-yielding corn hybrids.

When they received an invitation to visit North Korea, Dr. Kim Joo and her husband were deeply ambivalent about traveling to the communist North. She had grown up vilifying North Koreans; she and her husband were deeply torn about using their expertise to help boost North Korea’s agricultural production. After much contemplation, they decided to accept the invitation because their primary objective in studying agriculture was to help improve food security for the poor and underprivileged.

It was on March 17, 1989 when they first boarded the Chosun Minhang (the North Korean airline then) with fear and reluctance. But it was a great experience for them, especially, to Dr. Kim Joo who was born in the northern part of Korea but had to leave as a young girl in 1945. When they arrived in Pyongyang Sun-An Airport, a very handsome young guide with a broad smile called out her name. As he spoke the same Korean as she and her husband, instantly their fears and worries melted away.

Although North Korea prided itself on meeting the food needs of its population, Dr. Kim Joo and her husband Don could already see the problems North Korea had with their agricultural productivity in 1989.  By the early 1990’s, a deteriorating economy and a steep rise in the cost of energy, followed by a series of natural disasters, undercut North Korea’s capacity to feed its population. The public distribution system collapsed, and famine ensued. Almost one million people died because of food shortages.

They decided that as Christians and people of faith, it was their duty to help the people in North Korea by helping the farmers develops their agricultural capacity. Since that first visit, Dr. Joo has since traveled to North Korea over 100 times bringing with her expertise and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Because of the relationships and trust she has developed over the years, Dr. Joo has secured one of the first contracts with the government to help improve the long-term capacity of several cooperative farms.

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