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Food insecurity: Does South Korea hav...
Seoul, South Korea
By maltekol
12 Jul 2013

The World Health Organization warns that overpopulation and a lack of arable land contribute to global food insecurity. So scientists are developing new farming technology to offset potential food shortages. Researchers in South Korea are experimenting with vertical farms; gardens that instead of spreading out, go straight up.
Jason Strother and Malte Kollenberg report from Seoul.

Almost half of South Korea’s 50 millions citizens live here in the capital. And in a country with very limited agricultural land, feeding all of these people presents a challenge. Some observers say the nation faces increasing food insecurity.

Park Hwan-il is food security analyst at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul.

Int: Park Hwan-il, SERI (English)
"The food self sufficiency rate in Korea is just about 26 percent. Which means three quarters of the food we consume is from the foreign countries. That means the Korean people’s health and nutrition depends on outside factors that we cannot control”

Park says that climate conditions or other instability in the international market makes importing food unpredictable. It’s not only a problem for Korea, but for many other countries too. But some scientists say there is a solution.

Int. from online: Dickson Despommier, Columbia University (English)
“My name is Dickson Despommier: I teach at Columbia Universities Medical School and school of public health. The world would be a much better place, if we had vertical farming.”

Despommier says tower-like hydroponic farms could someday stand alongside skyscrapers as a key food source for billions of city dwellers

Int. from online: Dickson Despommier, Columbia University (English)
“Here’s my vision of what a vertical farm might look like. My gold standard for this is the Apple Store in New York City on 5th Avenue. If you took that building and made it into a five-story building. Now in the building you have multiple floors of course, and inside each floor you have multiple layers of crops.”

Despommier says vertical farms could be a key solution for countries with a growing population or limited arable land. Like South Korea.

30-kilometers south of Seoul in Suwon, the government is trying to make Despommier’s vision a reality. The Rural Development Administration has built the prototype of a vertical farm.Inside this research facility a small team of scientists is working on turning this concept a marketable product.So far, their experiment is only 3-storeys high. But they hope that one day, the technology will expand and be capable of feeding the entire nation.

Agrarian scientist Choi Kyu-hong is still sorting out more basic challenges.

Int: Choi Kyu-hong, RDA (English)
“The plant factory requires a lot of energy, the light energy and the heating and cooling energy. So we provide the heating or cooling energy using geothermal systems. We adopted the solar cell system to provide light source energies, but we are still (only) provide 15 percent of the total energy”

Choi adds his team still faces many challenges:

Int: Choi Kyu-hong, RDA (English)
“We are still (in) the research state, its take some time to make a commercial plant factories. We are firstly trying to find out the optimum wavelength of light”

Choi says the problem is that different plants grow at different speeds, depending on the light’s color and wavelength.

But even though the government hasn’t perfected vertical farming technology yet, some in the private sector are already putting it to use. Inside this Lotte Mart, a supermarket franchise in Seoul, lettuce grows under the lights of this small vertical farm.

Store mangers say produce grown in this facility has extra benefits for customers.

Int: Kim Chang-jo, Lotte Mart
(Korean) “We are the first super market to install a vertical farm. We hope that it will draw attention to environmental concerns. The plants are affordable and no pesticides were used, so its healthier for our customers”

Kim says the vertical farm lettuce costs the same as lettuce grown the old fashioned way. But some analysts say that all the lights and heating systems required to operate a vertical farm is just too expensive to make it a viable solution for food insecurity.

Int: Park Hwan-il, SERI
(English) “Vertical farming costs too much. / Even though the productivity in vertical farming is very high, very good, but it does not have the merit in price or marketing advantage at all”

Back at the Suwon experimental vertical farm, scientists admit they still have a long way to go. The Rural Development Administration’s Lee Hye jin gives a rough time frame.

Int: Lee Hye-jin, RDA
(Korean) “It might take at least five more years of research to make progress on these obstacles. Then vertical farms might be ready for commercial use”

The South Korean scientists say that once all the problems are resolved, vertical farms won't just have to stop at three-stories. The sky is the limit.

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Shark finning: A Cruel Dish is Disapp...
Hong Kong
By maltekol
30 Jun 2013

The trade in Shark Fins has declined in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is the world's shark fin capital, where about half of all fins are traded. But according to figures from the Hong Kong government imports last year of Shark fins dropped by a third.

For most Chinese, eating shark's fin still remains a status symbol. But as Malte Kollenberg reports young people are starting to view it differently.

This is how Shark fins are ‘harvested….
The fins are cut off a living shark and then the torso is thrown back into the ocean. Most of these fins from countries like Indonesia end up in Hong Kong.In 2008 around 10.000 tons of fins passed the city’s ports according to environmental organization Oceana.

INTV (English): Stanley Shea, Activist with French founded Bloom Association
“In Hong Kong in the old times they provided banquets which is all settled by the restaurant and the fin is always included in the banquet. So it leaves the customer, they actually have no choice to remove the dishes from the banquet set.”

But things started to change three years ago.
Under pressure from Environmental groups Governments in Hong Kong and Mainland China have stopped serving shark fins at official banquets. And big corporations as well as hotel chains are announcing they will take shark fin soup off their menus.

INTV (English): Stanley Shea, Activist with French founded Bloom Association
“We have been talking to corporate and also hotels and restaurants. And we found in Hong Kong now awareness has been increased and many hotels and restaurants now offer something alternative in the banquet menus so people can choose not to have it.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, appetite for the fins and other shark-related products has led to some shark species falling in numbers by 60-70%.
But in March this year five more species of Shark were added to the Washington Convention, ensuring endangered species are not threatened by overfishing and trade.This means tradingof eightshark speciesis not possible without official documentation anymore.
Here is the Sheung Wan District …. Shark Fins are still openly being sold.

But small shops merchants say business lately is slow and they are reluctant to talk about shark fins on camera…it has become a sensitive topic.But not far away at restaurant Lin Heung Kui staff will still proudly tell you that shark fin soup is on the menu.

INTV(Cantonese): Unidentified employee in Restaurant
“We prepare and serve the fins in lots of ways - with a clear soup or with shredded chicken. It is definitely more popular at night. We offer an especially cheap deal at $88 at the moment, but sometimes people come to get more expensive dishes.”

Shark fin soup has been the food of the rich and wealthy for hundreds of years in China. Consumption of the fins is said to increase health.

But anthropologist Veronica Mak says generational change is taking place.

INTV (English): Veronica Mak, Anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
“Not consuming shark fins becomes a signifier to show you are a social responsible person. In the past people made shark fins a signifier in a banquet, but nowadays this signifier changes.”

Activists believe that awareness and education is the key to change consumer behavior. And less demand for shark fins here will result in fewer sharks left for dead in the world’s oceans.

Video footage of fishermen "harvesting" fins is courtesy of Greenpeace. The footage was licensed from Greenpeace to be included into the video report.

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Citizen Paparazzi Informants in South...
Seoul, South Korea
By maltekol
15 Sep 2012

South Korean School Teaches Neighbors To Spy On Neighbors
Law-breakers in South Korea, beware.
Citizens who videotape illegal activity are on the loose and making extra income by selling the tapes to the police.
But some observers say a school that trains these citizen spies is turning neighbour against neighbour.

Ji Soo-hyun leads a double life. Starting six-months ago the housewife began a career catching lawbreakers red handed. The 54-year old says her specialty is going undercover at private tutoring schools.

INT: (Korean) Ji Soo-hyun, Citizen Paparazza
“I pretend that I am going to enroll my kids in the school. I ask the faculty about extra services. There are a lot of illegal activities in these schools, like staying open too late and charging additional fees. These are the types of things I record.”

When Ji is on her mission, she uses a small, concealed camera she hides in her bag. She is one of several hundred citizens who have been trained to record secret video of other people and businesses that break the law.

(Video Courtesy of Seoul Paparazzi School) This video was taken at a pharmacy in Seoul. Another citizen spy recorded the cashier that didn’t charge for a plastic bag, which is required by law in South Korea.The cameraman, as well as Ji Soo-hyun, are students of the Seoul paparazzi school.Here they learn the ins and outs of taking undercover video. They can try out tiny cameras that are disguised as jewelry. And they are taught which illegal activities can make them the most money if reported to the authorities.

Moon Seong-ok has run the paparazzi academy for 14 years. He helps his students find buyers for their secret footage.

INT: (KOREAN) Moon Seong-ok, Director, Seoul Paparazzi School
“The students who come here want to make money. I contact them with police agencies, local governments, health agencies and education authorities who pay them.”

Moon claims citizen paparazzi can earn between 20 and 30,000 dollars a year.But some other citizens are concerned that money is turning neighbors into spies. Koo Ja-kyoung describes himself as an ordinary guy who is alarmed at what paparazzi students are doing to his community.

INT: (KOREAN) Koo Ja-kyoung, Seoul
“I was just walking around one day and I saw an old lady crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me she had to pay a fine because she put out the garbage using an unauthorized plastic bag. She said that a citizen paparazzo took a picture of her and gave it to the police.”

Koo says he was so upset with that woman’s story that he filed a complaint with the National Human Rights’ Commission.
That was several years ago and according to the Commision, until now Koo it’s the only person to complain about citizen paparazzi. The Commission has yet to decide whether or not to hear the case. Its not that South Koreans don’t care about this alleged spying, it’s that they are afraid to speak out against it.

That’s according to Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Seoul’s Sogang University. He says most citizens don’t like what the paparazzi do.

INT: (KIREAN) Chun Song-chin, Sogang University
“There is a certain cultural sensitivity here. People are worried that if they come forward and complain then others will think they are actually doing something wrong or illegal. They want others to think that what they do privately is as good as what they do publically, so they stay quiet about these things.”

Chun says the government should stop paying for these secret videos.

INT: Chun
“The government is outsourcing its responsibilities to the citizens. Everyone knows that is wrong. But if you look at Korea’s political history, of dictatorship, it just isn’t a concern for most people. I think it would be hard to create a public debate about the paparazzi”

So for now, South Koreans will do their best to keep their private lives behind closed doors. Moon Seong-ok of the Seoul paparazzi school says he feels no shame about what he or his students do.

INT: (KOREAN) Moon Seong-ok, Director of Seoul paparazzi School
“Good citizens who abide by the law like what the paparazzi citizens do. But for those who break the law, they are the ones who are uncomfortable with what my students do.”

Citizen paparazza Ji Soo-hyun agrees. She says she does not feel sympathy for people breaking the law.

INT: (KOREAN) Ji Soo-hyun, Citizen Paparazza
“At first I felt guilty about reporting on these people, but the more I did it, I realized how much illegal activity is going on around us. These people are not poor or struggling to make a living, so I do not feel bad about reporting on them.”

Ji says she is now turning her camera on people who skip out on paying their taxes.