chagang food shortages signs
A train can be seen travelling in an area of Chagang Province near the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

Following an order by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “resolve” food shortages nationwide, Chagang Province officials have begun constructing large-scale irrigation facilities as part of efforts to improve the supply of water to local farms, Daily NK has learned.

“The Central Committee recently made the decision to build irrigation facilities in Chagang Province,” a source in Chagang Province told Daily NK on Sunday. “In line with this, the provincial party committee has instructed the province’s people’s committee and rural accounting committee to establish plans [for the construction].” 

According to the source, plans for the construction came after the “Supreme Leader issued a statement of concern over resolving food shortages in Chagang Province” and that there was “an order to ensure that citizens in Chagang Province are able to grow enough to feed themselves, even if [all they can eat] is just corn rice.”

Chagang Province is one of North Korea’s main industrial hubs, with many munitions factories disguised as civilian facilities. These facilities include the Kanggye Tractor Factory, Kanggye Precision Machinery Factory, and the February 8 Machinery Factory. 

Accordingly, North Korean authorities try to prevent the leakage of confidential information about these facilities by heavily restricting anyone from entering or leaving the province. 

Since Chagang Province is isolated from the rest of the country, the latest order to build and expand irrigation facilities appears to be aimed at helping locals resolve the province’s food shortages on their own. 

“The Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] has ordered the government to provide the materials and technology required for the construction,” the source explained. “Since Chagang Province is mostly home to terraced fields and small plots of land, the Party has emphasized that the state will provide required materials and pumping equipment suited for the ‘province’s characteristics.’” 

According to the source, each work unit will begin construction with their own resources, but provincial, municipal and county authorities will push the projects forward and provide support.

“Work units are being encouraged to begin construction immediately where possible,” he added. 

Chagang Province is largely mountainous, which means that it is not an ideal place to cultivate grains. It remains to be seen whether the construction of new irrigation and field watering facilities will be enough to resolve the province’s food shortages. 

There are also questions about whether the latest order is simply an attempt to make Chagang Province residents fend for themselves given signs that the North Korean government seems to be struggling to provide enough food to the province. 

A report released in July by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization stated that 10.1 million North Koreans, or 40% of the population, are experiencing food shortages. The report also noted that recent flooding and typhoons has plunged the country into an acute food security crisis. 

According to Daily NK’s source in Chagang Province, North Korean authorities have not done a good job of providing food rations to locals. 

“Over the last five months, [workers] in munitions factories, special agencies and military units in Chagang Province have only been receiving enough rations for 15 days [per month],” the source explained. “Locals are being ordered to show up to work no matter what, so they are bringing packed lunches of bean sprout bibimbap into the mines.”

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