Farmers upset over government confiscation of land and tree planting orders

Vegetable plot in North Pyongan Province
Vegetable plot in North Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

In early March, North Korean officials confiscated small plots of land from farmers in some areas of the country under the pretext of “forest restoration” for “Arbor Day” celebrations in North Korea, according to local sources.

“The authorities told all North Koreans to plant trees on mountains to commemorate Arbor Day,” a Ryanggang Province-based source recently told Daily NK. “Wood is generally used for heating and people sell wood in the local markets, but the state’s Forestry Business Institute confiscated land from farmers and forced them to plant new trees on the confiscated land.”

“The authorities forced the farmers to plant the new trees on land that had been confiscated near mountain roads, and the farmers were really unhappy that the land was taken away from them,” said the source. “My family’s farm was also taken away and all our hard work has gone down the drain.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has announced a national “forestry recovery battle” [campaign] to make the country greener. During his New Year’s address this year, Kim declared, “We should make proactive efforts to implement the tasks for the second stage of the forest restoration campaign, improve landscaping, urban management and road administration, and take every precaution against environmental pollution.”

North Korean residents, however, are increasingly criticizing the state’s reforestation policies. Many are farming their own plots of land as the country’s economic situation has worsened.

Moreover, the state ordered farmers to obtain their own trees to plant on the confiscated land, which has further fanned anger amongst the farmers.

“It’s not enough that they took our land, but forcing us to plant trees on that same land? People are saying it’s just ridiculous and that the state is calling for the people to treat forest restoration like a battle, but they’re not providing the trees. It’s like going to war without bullets,” the source lamented.

“There are still a lot of families in North Korea that light fires in furnaces. Essentially, the state should be conducting this ‘forest battle’ after the people stop using furnaces and can heat their homes with coal or gas,” another source in Jagang Province reported. “There are sometimes people who freeze to death because they don’t have any wood to burn, so it’s difficult to fathom how this battle will be successful.”

The Rodong Sinmun ran an article on Arbor Day entitled “Let’s All Plant Trees in the Spring” to encourage tree planting and forest restoration.

“Planting a lot of trees makes the country’s landscape beautiful and is important for increasing the country’s natural resources,” the article declared, later adding, “We must achieve a great deal of progress in our efforts to plant trees in the spring to reforest the country.”

North Korea conducts organized tree-planting on Arbor Day each year. In March, however, much of the country’s land is still frozen, making it difficult to plant trees. Most trees are planted in May and June.

North Korea designated April 6 as Arbor Day in 1971 through an edict by the standing committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly. In 1999, Arbor Day was redesignated  to fall on March 2, the date that Kim Il Sung, along with his son Kim Jong Il and wife Kim Jong Suk, allegedly climbed up Pyongyang’s Moran Peak in 1946 and presented plans to create a forest.