Parts of Ryanggang Province are at the height of the blueberry picking season, but farmers are voicing concerns because blueberry prices have fallen dramatically following a significant increase in supply, a source in the region told Daily NK recently.
“Farmers are saying that this has been the best season for blueberries in recent years,” the source said on August 29. “The blueberry picking areas are busy, but many farmers are avoiding selling their harvest to the government because the prices are so low.”
The government purchasing price for one kilogram of blueberries in 2015 was 22,000 won, which rose to 25,000 won in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, prices spiked even further to 35,000 won. This year, however, the prices have fallen to around 20,000 won and even reached a low point of 15,000 won earlier in the season.
Many farmers are reportedly trying to avoid selling their blueberries at such low prices, storing their produce at home in the hope that prices will rise again soon.
As a result, trading companies, which are keen to increase their foreign currency earnings, have sent representatives to blueberry picking areas to harvest the fruit themselves.
“Trading companies are completely focused on acquiring products they can trade with farmers for the blueberries,” said another source in Ryanggang Province. “The companies are putting a lot of effort into finding out what farmers want in exchange for the blueberries.”
Farmers are welcoming the increase in production because blueberry picking doesn’t require capital and hardworking farmers can earn significant profits. As North Korea’s economic stagnation continues, many North Korean business people are turning to blueberry picking to earn a living.
“There are market merchants who are shutting down their businesses and heading into the mountains to pick blueberries,” said the source. “Blueberries are used in different kinds of processed foods, and food factories need a lot of blueberries for their products. An increasing number of merchants understand this dynamic.”
“People living in the blueberry growing regions are working from early morning to late in the evenings to pick them,” the source added. “Farmers are constructing temporary dwellings in places where the most plants are.”
On August 21, Rodong Sinmun reported that blueberry picking was at its height in Ryanggang Province and that workers from government agencies and factories, together with housewives, had joined together to pick the ripened fruit. The newspaper also noted that blueberries harvested from Taehongdan and Paekam counties were being sent to local factories for processing.