Cruel summer: North Koreans ordered to provide human waste for fertilizer

Usually this is done in the winter, when it is less smelly and there are fewer flies.
By Kim Jieun for RFA Korean
Cruel summer: North Koreans ordered to provide human waste for fertilizer A North Korean bathroom, 2015.
Uwe Brodrecht via Wikimedia Commons

North Koreans are in deep doo doo, literally, as their government has ordered each household to collect 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of human waste and dry it for use as fertilizer, residents in the country told Radio Free Asia.

North Koreans are used to donating human waste for agricultural purposes, but usually this is done in the winter ahead of planting season. Recently, a summer collection was announced as one of the policies under leader Kim Jong Un’s new agriculture-first initiative.

Residents are complaining that this time they are being asked to dry feces in their yards in the summer heat, when smells travel more easily and flies and maggots are attracted.

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The entrance to toilets is reflected in a mirror in the lobby of Yanggakdo International Hotel, Oct. 11, 2015 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

As in the past, those who can afford it can pay their way out of it can avoid doing their duty. This time it will cost 5,000 won or about 30 US cents, a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA Korean on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

That's a rather large sum for many North Koreans.

“Today, the neighborhood-watch unit held a residents’ meeting and issued an order from the party to dry human waste and donate it for collection,” he said. “Residents could not hide their bewilderment at the party’s order to dry human waste … in the hot weather.”

He said that they were told to deliver the 10 kilograms of dry dung to a nearby fertilizer factory where they would receive a certificate as proof of their contribution. 

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“Residents expressed their dissatisfaction, saying that this was the first time they had been ordered to dry human waste in the summer when flies were flying around,” he said. 

“At least the households in single family homes can scoop up and dry the waste with some privacy,” he said. “But households living in apartments protested, asking how they are supposed to accomplish this.”

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From left, North Korean balloons carrying waste, June 2, 2024 in Incheon, South Korea, May 29, 2024 in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea, and June 2, 2024 in Incheon, South Korea. (Yonhap via Reuters/South Korea Defense Ministry via AP/Yonhap via Reuters/RFA illustration)

Another Ryanggang resident likened the order to an unofficial tax, because most households would rather pay the 5,000 won than go through the smelly ordeal of drying their own excrement.

“The party is always saying that we live happily under a tax-free socialist system, but the party’s orders are always a tax, 100%,” she said. “Every time the party gives us instructions it’s all about collecting payment.”

Translated by Claire S. Lee Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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Michael R Betzer
Jun 28, 2024 10:47 AM

And the Kingdom of North Korea is flying excrement in balloons over South Korea?