A tractor on a farm in North Korea
A tractor on a farm in North Korea. (Image: Todd Mecklem, Creative Commons, Flickr)

With the recent mobilization of North Koreans to support spring planting at farms throughout the country, there have been frequent accidents involving farm machinery in North Hwanghae Province, Daily NK has learned. 

“Around 50 people died in tractor accidents around the province last month. Despite growing concern about public safety, the party hasn’t taken any meaningful actions,” a source in North Hwanghae Province told Daily NK on May 17.

Given the large number of deaths in tractor accidents in the province, there may have been a considerable number of injuries as well.

“One of the reasons for these accidents is that the roads are badly paved. Most of the accidents occur when tractors with old tires have a blowout on the job,” the source explained.

Tires that are worn out or past their service life are in danger of rupturing because of deformation, tearing or other types of breakage or damage. When a tire ruptures, fragments go flying in all directions, potentially harming people nearby.

One factor here is that North Korea has been struggling to import raw materials since it closed its borders in January 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country has had challenges importing materials needed for tire production, which has interrupted factory output. It has also become more difficult for farms to acquire used tires.

In short, the combination of North Korea’s abysmal road conditions and poor tire quality is leading to accidents and loss of life in North Hwanghae Province. Since the situation is much the same elsewhere in North Korea, it is likely that similar accidents are occurring throughout the country.

The source pointed out that the poor health of farm equipment operators is another cause of accidents.

“The tractor drivers suffer from poor nutrition. Since they don’t have enough to eat, they’re already extremely weak, and spring fever makes them lethargic and reduces their ability to focus. This kind of situation causes quite a few accidents,” the source said.

The source’s report suggests that some accidents occur when tired workers push themselves too hard and make a mistake in operating machinery or driving a vehicle. In fact, the source said that driver inattention frequently leads to tractors turning or rolling over.

According to a report titled “Asia and the Pacific: Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2021,” which was released in December 2021 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 42.2% of North Koreans suffered from nutritional deficiency between 2018 and 2020.

In the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea at the end of last year, North Korea instructed all farms to increase their grain yield by at least 1 ton per jongbo (a Korean unit of measurement equal to approximately 9,900 square meters). To achieve that end, the authorities have been aggressively looking to mechanize farms.

Along the way, farm machinery malfunctions have become more common, and the small number of tractor drivers find themselves forced to work on as many farms as possible.

While undernourished and overworked factory drivers presumably face mounting fatigue, it is uncertain whether they are allowed to get enough rest given that the authorities are prioritizing farm productivity and urging farms to get results.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.