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N. Korea completes almost 70% of rice transplanting as of early June

Amid the travails of a chronic food shortage, North Korea has identified increasing grain production as its top economic priority for the year and has desperately pushed workers to complete transplanting rice seedlings by the end of May. The state-run Rodong Sinmun reported that transplanting had been completed early in several areas by that time, and there were also reports of workers being mobilized to weed upland fields in places where transplanting had been completed.

I used satellite imagery from the NASA-operated Landsat 8 satellite to analyze North Korea’s progress on rice transplantation through early June 2024, and also to compare it to the situation in 2018, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an earlier analysis (for Radio Free Asia on May 20), I concluded that North Korea’s rice transplantation was going smoothly and 70% faster than last year, given the lack of reports of famine this spring and the high water levels in reservoirs. With that in mind, this analysis for early June compares this year’s situation with the pre-pandemic situation for a different kind of assessment.

I begin with a summary of the analysis of satellite images of North Korea’s rice planting this year. The analysis of eight sample areas shows that the transplantation was 69.3% complete by the beginning of June. This suggests that North Korea missed its original deadline of late May and that transplanting, at least in some areas, will continue into early or even mid-June.

For several years, North Korea has faced severe difficulties with rice transplantation due to a severe spring drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. While there have been signs of improvement in each subsequent year, North Korea has not yet returned to pre-pandemic conditions.

Acquisition and analysis of satellite images

I downloaded usable images with relatively little cloud cover from the June 1 and 3 listings from Landsat (a satellite listed on EarthExplorer, a free website run by the US Geological Survey). To compare with pre-pandemic conditions, I went back through the 2019 list until I found clean color images from June 1 and 3, 2018, that worked for this analysis.

However, images from the Sentinel satellite (operated by the European Space Agency, with a resolution of 10 meters) had to be excluded from this analysis due to excessive cloud cover.

The 2024 and 2018 Landsat images were taken on the same day, June 1 (June 3 for the two Hamgyong provinces), which fortunately allowed me to compare the progress of rice transplantation without any discrepancies between the images due to a difference in date.

Since the Landsat resolution is relatively low at 30 meters, I used the “resolution merge” function in the Erdas Imagine software suite to improve the visual effects on the color images. This had the effect of improving the resolution of the satellite image to 15 meters.

The results of this analysis of the progress of rice transplantation in early June are presented below for each specific region in North Korea.

Rice transplantation near Nampo, Kangso District

As of June 1 of this year, rice transplantation around the Kangso District of Nampo had a 62% progress rate, compared to a 70% rate four years ago, in 2018. According to this analysis, rice transplantation this year is 8% behind the pre-pandemic level. Imagery: Landsat-8

In the color satellite images of Kangso County, Nampo, the irrigated rice fields appear dark blue and the dry rice fields appear dark gray. This assessment of the status of rice transplanting in Kangso County, Nampo, which is part of the breadbasket of North Korea, showed that 600.3 hectares, or 61.5% of the total, had been completed as of June 1 this year. By comparison, the progress rate on the same date in 2018 was 70.3%, indicating that this year’s progress is 8.8% behind that of four years ago.

Table 1. Rice transplantation near Nampo, Kangso District
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 600.3 ha (61.5%) 375.7 ha (38.5%)
June 1, 2018 686.2 ha (70.3%) 289.8 ha (29.7%)
Discrepancy -85.9 ha (-8.8%) ↓

 

Incidentally, this satellite image-based analysis of rice transplanting applied the technique for calculating the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) proposed by S. K. McFeeters (1996). According to McFeeters, the green band and near infrared (NIR) bands in satellite images can be effectively processed in NDWI analysis with the following formula: NDWI = (Green – NIR) / (Green + NIR).

Rice transplantation near Pyongyang Sunan International Airport

This year, rice transplantation in the Sunan District of Pyongyang appears to be 56% complete, which is similar to the level of progress on the same date in 2018. Transplanting the remaining 44% of paddies is expected to continue through early and mid-June. Imagery: Landsat-8

As of June 1 this year, the rice transplanting near Pyongyang Sunan International Airport was 55.57% complete. As shown in the chart below, this was almost the same as the progress of 55.8% on the same day in 2018. The transplantation work in the local rice fields was found to be 44.3% complete by the original deadline of the North Korean authorities at the end of May, and is expected to continue until early or mid-June.

Table 2. Rice transplantation near Pyongyang Sunan International Airport
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 886.7 ha (55.7%) 704.7 ha (44.3%)
June 1, 2018 888.7 ha (55.8%) 702.7 ha (44.2%)
Discrepancy -2.0 ha (-0.1%) ↓

Rice transplantation near Paechon County, South Hwanghae Province, and Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province

Paechon County, South Hwanghae Province, had a 71% progress rate for rice transplantation, which was a similar level to 2018. The area near Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, exhibited a rate of 84%, which was about 10% behind the level four years before. Imagery=Landsat-8

An analysis of satellite imagery of the area around Paechon County, South Hwanghae Province, found that 70.8% of rice transplantation had been completed by June 1 this year, compared with 72.3% in 2018, as shown in the table below. In short, rice transplantation there is progressing at a similar pace this year as it did four years ago.

Table 3. Rice transplantation near Paechon County, South Hwanghae Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 2,859.3 ha (70.8%) 1,180.3 ha (29.2%)
June 1, 2018 2,920.5 ha (72.3%) 1,119.1 ha (27.7%)
Discrepancy -61.2 ha (-1.5%) ↓

 

In the area around Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, the transplantation progress rate stood at 84.4%, which was found to be about 9.1% slower than the progress rate of 93.5% on the same date four years before, in 2018.

Table 4. Rice transplantation near Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 2,493.5 ha (84.4%) 460.1 ha (15.6%)
June 1, 2018 2,762.6 ha (93.5%) 191.0 ha (6.5%)
Discrepancy -269.1 ha (-9.1%) ↓

 

Rice transplantation near Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province, and Pakchon County, North Pyongan Province

Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province, and Pakchon County, North Pyongan Province, had transplantation progress rates of 58% and 68%, respectively, which were found to be 5% and 7% behind the corresponding rates in 2018. Imagery=Landsat-8

Meanwhile, the progress rates of rice transplantation near Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province, and Pakchon County, North Pyongan Province, were 58.1% and 68.0%, respectively, compared with the progress rates of 63.0% and 75.1% at the same time in 2018. In other words, the progress rates in Sukchon and Pakchon Counties were 4.9% and 6.7% lower than the rates four years earlier. As in other areas, rice transplantation work there is expected to continue until early or mid-June.

Table 5. Rice transplantation near Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 1,494.7 ha (58.1%) 1,077.8 ha (41.9%)
June 1, 2018 1,620.1 ha (63.0%) 952.4 ha (37.0%)
Discrepancy -125.5 ha (-4.9%) ↓

 

Table 6. Rice transplantation near Unjon County and Pakchon County, North Pyongan Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 3,440.9 ha (68.4%) 1,592.2 ha (31.6%)
June 1, 2018 3,780.1 ha (75.1%) 1,253.0 ha (24.9%)
Discrepancy -339.2 ha (-6.7%) ↓

 

Rice transplanting near Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, and Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province

This year’s transplantation progress rates in Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, and Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, were 81% and 75%, respectively, which were 7% and 8% behind the rates four years before. Imagery=Landsat-8

Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, and Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, had transplant progress rates of 80.6% and 75.3% this year, compared with 88.3% and 83.0% in 2018. This indicates that the progress rates of the two areas were 7.7% and 7.8% behind the rates of four years ago.

 

Table 7. Rice transplantation near Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 3, 2024 361.6 ha (80.6%) 87.0 ha (19.4%)
June 3, 2018 396.2 ha (88.3%) 52.3 ha (11.7%)
Discrepancy -34.7 ha (-7.7%) ↓

 

Table 8. Rice transplantation near Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 3, 2024 937.7 ha (75.3%) 308.1 ha (24.7%)
June 3, 2018 1,034.5 ha (83.0%) 211.4 ha (17.0%)
Discrepancy -96.8 ha (-7.8%) ↓

 

Comprehensive results of 2024 rice transplantation analysis (as of early June)

This satellite imagery-based analysis of North Korea’s 2024 rice transplantation campaign covered eight sample areas from across the country. The resulting statistics are shown in the table below. Rice transplanting has been completed on more than 13,000 hectares in the eight sample areas, representing 69.3% of the paddy area. This year’s progress was 5.4% behind the progress rate of 74.7% at the beginning of June 2018. This indicates that rice transplanting this year has not yet returned to the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the modest gap between the two years suggests that North Korea is gradually closing that gap as it enters the recovery phase.

Table 9. Comprehensive results of 2024 rice transplantation for eight sample locations across North Korea
Satellite imagery Transplanted paddies Dry paddies
June 1, 2024 13,074.8 ha (69.3%) 5,785.9 ha (30.7%)
June 1, 2018 14,089.0 ha (74.7%) 4,771.6 ha (25.3%)
Discrepancy -1,014.2 ha (-5.4%) ↓

 

Comparing the progress of rice transplanting by region, North Hwanghae Province had made the most progress (84.4%), followed by South Hamgyong Province (80.6%) and North Hamgyong Province (75.3%). The areas with the lowest transplantation rate were South Pyongan Province (58.1%), Pyongyang (55.7%) and Nampo (61.5%).

Rice transplanting in Pyongyang and South Pyongan Province, a major breadbasket in North Korea, takes longer than in the more mountainous areas of South and North Hamgyong Provinces, presumably because more workers and equipment must be mobilized to cover the larger area of rice fields to be transplanted.

Based on rice transplanting to date, North Korea’s harvest this year is likely to be slightly better than last year’s, but still not back to pre-pandemic levels. This leads to the grim prediction that North Korea’s chronic food shortages are likely to continue, barring massive aid from the international community.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

June 25, 2024 at 08:43AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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