Cooperative farms in North Korea are selling government-provided fertilizers instead of using them, prompting authorities to launch an “emergency investigation” and threaten “harsh punishment” for offenders, sources say.
Some sources said the farmers sold the fertilizer to cover the cost of transporting the material from government centers.
A source from Yanggang province, along the country’s northern border, said the Chinese-made fertilizer had been selling at marketplaces around the region.
“The fertilizer that has been provided to cooperative farms has already been selling at marketplaces, and despite efforts by security guards to control the situation the fertilizer continues to flow,” the source said.
Beginning June 5, authorities began providing urea-based fertilizer to cooperative farms in the province for the first time this year, in quantities of as much as 16 tons and as little as 11 tons for each farm, depending on lot size.
But the source said that the farms had been forced to sell the fertilizer to cover the costs of borrowing vehicles and buying gasoline to transport it after receiving it from the government.
The amount of fertilizer provided by the government fell far short of what was required—more than three tons of fertilizer per jongbo (about 2.5 acres), the source said.
The economic inspection office of the Yanggang provincial security department had launched an “emergency investigation” into the fertilizer sales after determining that “every single cooperative farm had sold some of the fertilizer,” according to the source.
A second source in neighboring North Hamgyong province, also along the border with China, said authorities had threatened “harsh punishment” for those involved in the illicit sales.
“Recently, a notice from the central party about doling out harsh punishments to those who diverted the fertilizer and other farming materials outside of the cooperatives was announced at a People’s Units meeting,” the source said, referring to the Workers' Party of Korea, the powerful ruling party of North Korea led by Kim Jong Un.
“According to the order, judicial agencies are working to dig up the sources of the fertilizer that has been sold in the marketplaces,” he said.
But the Yanggang source said that while the illegal acts of the cooperative farms had been exposed by authorities, the provincial security department is unsure of exactly who to punish and how to punish them.
“As of June 11, one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of Chinese-made fertilizer is selling for 3,000 won,” he said. Based on the official exchange rate, 3,000 won should fetch U.S. $22, but North Korean defectors say the amount earns only 60 U.S. cents on the real market.
“Despite attempts by the relevant judicial agencies to control the situation, many people are still secretly selling the fertilizer. If you have money, you can buy as much of it as you like,” the source said.
North Korea has been reeling from persistent food shortages since a famine in the mid-1990s that resulted in several million deaths, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.
The U.S. suspended planned food shipments to North Korea in April following a rocket launch Washington said breached a February deal, under which Pyongyang agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile and nuclear test moratorium in return for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid.
The aid package had been expected to target the most needy in North Korea, including malnourished young children and pregnant women.
The lack of food security in the nation has led to the proliferation of an underground market economy, which authorities have largely tolerated because of the failures of the public distribution system to sufficiently provide rations for the population.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.