North Korean Farmers Earn Foreign Currency For Cash-Strapped Pyongyang

They harvest radish leaves and sweet potato stems for re-export to South Korea by way of China, sources say.

North Korean workers tend a field on the outskirts of Pyongyang, July 12, 2017.

North Korean food products not usually sold abroad are now being sent into China for re-export to earn money for the sanctions-hit regime in Pyongyang, sources in the country and across the border in China say.

U.N. sanctions imposed in August by the world body to punish North Korea for its nuclear weapons and missile tests prohibit the country from exporting coal, iron, seafood, and other goods.

Much is still being sold abroad to earn foreign cash, though, sources say.

North Korean farmers working under government order are now harvesting for sale agricultural goods not previously promoted for trade, a source living in a border city in China told RFA’s Korean Service.

“North Korea has previously exported pine nuts, but the country is now exporting any agricultural products it has, including dried radish leaves and dried sweet potato stems,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

These kinds of foods are preferred by ethnic Koreans living in China and by South Koreans, the source said, adding, “Chinese people do not enjoy eating them.”

“I don’t think that Chinese people will buy these products, so they are probably being re-exported to South Korea after being disguised as originating in China,” the source said.

Government order


Also speaking to RFA, a resident of North Korea’s North Pyongan province, bordering China, said that the new trade in leaves and stems is being carried out under directives by authorities.

“Dried radish leaves and dried sweet potato stems are now being collected because farmers have been ordered by the government to take part in earning foreign currency,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“Radish leaves are used for making kimchi and napa cabbage, and sweet potato stems are also a food item in North Korea, but North Korean peasants are now ‘offering them’ to their country as a way to boost earnings of foreign currency.”

These food goods are already widely available in both China and South Korea, a South Korean businessman working in the import trade told RFA.

“But the labor cost for trimming and dehydrating these products is high in both countries, so they tend to import inexpensive products instead of producing them on their own,” he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.