Hungnam Fertilizer Complex grapples with power shortages, corruption

Hungnam Fertilizer Complex
Hungnam Fertilizer Complex. Image: Naenara

As production levels at North Korea’s largest fertilizer factory, the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, have gradually fallen, farms are facing difficult times. A high-ranking official in the factory has also been caught stealing fertilizer, causing an uproar among factory employees.

“Production at the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex is gradually falling,” said a South Hamgyong Province-based source on February 25. “Farms have been waiting for fertilizer since autumn last year but now they’re unsure how the issue will be resolved.”

Heungnam Fertilizer Factory is supplied with electricity generated by the Changjin River Power Plant built on Changjin Lake (a massive man-made lake in Changjin County, South Hamgyong Province). However, a lack of power throughout the winter has led to shutdowns at the factory and the factory is unable to produce a stable supply of fertilizer.

A bigger issue is that the factory’s employees are committing acts of corruption amidst the factory’s troubles.

A separate source in South Hamgyong Province reported that farms in general and even some military bases come to the factory with orders to acquire fertilizer for use on farmland. However, the head of the factory’s storage facility, which distributes ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers, hatched a scheme to favorably supply a military base in North Hwanghae Province.

“The head of the storage facility agreed to sell 10 tons of fertilizer and split the profit with the military base’s purchasing agent. The purchasing agent took 40 tons back to the base in a truck, and the storage facility head reported that only 30 tons had been taken,” the source said.

“They brought the security officer on duty in on the scheme, but that security officer suddenly failed to show up and the whole scheme was ruined when the truck was weighed by another security guard.”

The military base’s purchasing agent was forced out of the military, and the storage facility head is now being detained and interrogated by the factory’s police for both this incident and other cases of corruption that have cropped up.

“The head of the storage facility will likely fail to wriggle his way out of all this,” the source reported, adding that factory security officers are allegedly saying that he’ll receive five years in a correctional labor facility.

“The Hungnam Fertilizer Factory is the only factory in Hamhung that is receiving rations from the state,” an additional source in South Hamgyong Province reported.

Rations are handed out at the start and end of each month, and each delivery of rations is expected to last for 7-10 days. This means that the factory is receiving 15-20 days worth of rations each month, according to the source.

Some factory employees, however, told the source that they received 20-25 days worth of rations just three years ago, with the levels gradually decreasing. Recently provided rations have included undried corn which, when dried, means that 2 kg less corn than normal is being provided.

“The rations are not provided to individuals; rather they are given out to families, so a lot of people want to become factory workers,” the source said. “The party is reportedly working on plans to ensure that the workers at the factory get their rations.”

Ha Yunais Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to