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North Korea faces serious fertilizer shortage – again

As North Koreans begin planting wheat and barley, the first crops of the year, the country is once again facing a severe fertilizer shortage. The amount of fertilizer supplied to farms in South Pyongan Province this spring is less than half of the amount supplied last spring.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Mar. 7 that the province’s agricultural management committee conducted a survey of fertilizer supplies to farms in the province in mid-February. The committee found that less than 50% of the planned amount of fertilizer had been delivered.

There were also regional disparities within the province. Farms in the breadbasket counties of Mundok, Sukchon, Pyongwon and Chungsan received an average of 50% of the planned amount, but farms in the central highlands counties of Yangdok, Maengsan, Pukchang and Tokchon received much less.

“We’ve always received about 60% of the fertilizer we need for the year around this time, but this time we didn’t even get the fertilizer we need to plant the seedlings. At the moment, we’re also not receiving adequate supplies of locally produced fertilizer,” the source said.

The agricultural management committees in each province provide farmers with 60% of the fertilizer they need for a year’s planting around February each year, while farmers are supposed to provide the remaining 40% from their own resources, the source explained.

But this year, the farms received only about half the usual amount, or 30% of the fertilizer they need for the year, he said. This leaves the farms with a serious fertilizer deficit for the spring planting season, which is about to begin.

The North Korean authorities boasted that they had increased the production of nitrogen fertilizer by 100% as one of the “remarkable achievements in the whole people’s economy” summarized at the Ninth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which was held at the end of December 2023.

But the reality is that even farms in South Pyongan Province – home to some of North Korea’s best-known fertilizer facilities, including the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Plant and the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex – do not receive an adequate supply of fertilizer. If even South Pyongan Province is facing this situation, the fertilizer shortage in other parts of the country could be much more severe.

Limited to nitrogen fertilizer

The main reasons for North Korea’s fertilizer shortage are believed to be the lack of imported materials needed to produce fertilizer and the aging equipment used to produce it. Despite these difficult circumstances, North Korea is calling for an improvement in agricultural productivity.

A related problem is that North Korea focuses exclusively on producing nitrogen-based fertilizer because it is unable to produce potassium-based fertilizer on its own. The Namhung Youth Chemical Complex and the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, North Korea’s largest fertilizer plants, are both known to produce nitrogen fertilizer.

“There has to be a proper mix of organic and inorganic fertilizers, but North Korea is focused solely on producing nitrogen fertilizer. That’s the only fertilizer it can produce on its own, as it lacks the raw materials and technology needed to produce [other types of] fertilizer,” said Cho Chung-hui, head of the research arm of the South Korean non-government organization Good Farmers and an expert on North Korean agriculture.

“The fact that almost all fertilizer used in North Korea is nitrogen-based is another reason why it’s hard [for the North] to make its farms more productive,” Cho said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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Read in Korean

March 12, 2024 at 12:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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