North Korea has asserted that, unlike southwestern areas that have been plagued by drought, the country's major potato producing northern regions are set to see reduced potato harvests this year due to an excess of rain.
Daehongdan and Baekam counties in Yangkang Province are known as North Korea’s ‘sea of potato flowers’ for their production. There are also major potato producers in Musan, Huicheon, Hoiryeong and Jangjin in North and South Hamkyung Province, along with Kangye in Jagang Province.
However, apparently due to the lack of sunny days and considerable rain in these regions from the end of April to June, this year’s potatoes have been damaged. This is because potatoes ripen in the roots, but excessive dampness prevents the process from occurring.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, some northern regions of North Korea certainly did have high rainfall in both May and June, especially the latter. For example, Samjiyeon County and Hyesan (near Daehongdan and Baekam counties) received 204.8mm and 169.3mm of rain respectively in June, 144.4% and 186.9% of last year’s totals.
Rodong Shinmun reported damage to potatoes in the northern highlands on the 12th, citing a worker as saying, “Cloudy weather in the highlands with 100mm of rain in May and more than ten days of 80mm or more rain in June reduced the size of the first potato crop and hindered growth in all agricultural produce.”
He then suggested, “We have to gather 200kg of ash to put on each jongbo (a unit measurement of agricultural land) to counter the rain so that the potatoes do not grow badly.”
However, North Korea has a long history of using bad weather as a justification for poor agricultural performance so as to deflect blame away from its collective farming policy. Indeed, Pungsan County in Yangkang Province actually received less rain than in June last year (97%) and Jangjin County in South Hamkyung Province recorded 71.8%.
As such, it is unclear how much damage has really been done, or what effect it will have on food security going forward.