Much of the wheat and barley North Korea planted last year has died due to extreme winter drought, even as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stresses expanded cultivation of the two crops. As North Korea lacks proper irrigation facilities, farmers have been completely unable to respond to the dry spell, and are simply awaiting rain.
In a telephone conversation with Daily NK on Thursday, a source in South Pyongan Province said the fields should now be a sea of green with the barley standing 15 centimeters high; yet it is not, with continued droughts last winter causing major harm to crops.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, only 13.3mm of precipitation fell nationwide in South Korea between December of last year and February of this year. This was just 14.7% of the 89.0mm that fell annually between 1991 and 2020, and the lowest figure since South Korea’s meteorological authorities expanded their weather observation network nationwide in 1973.
Like South Korea, North Korea is continuing to suffer dry weather conditions, too.
The source said the barley is just half as tall as it should be, and scorched in places. He said barley fields quickly planted in response to Kim Jong Un’s call last year to plant wheat and barley instead of corn have dried up.
Speaking before the Supreme People’s Assembly late last September, Kim ordered a two-fold increase in acreage for wheat and barley, while also calling for expanded wet and dry-field rice cultivation.
After Kim’s order, collective farms across the country have been sowing wheat and barley on newly created plots. Most of these farms expanded their acreage for wheat and barley as a matter of duty, but they have suffered major losses as they take a direct blow from the drought.
In times of protracted drought, North Korean authorities use irrigation facilities to provide the moisture growing crops need. However, these facilities do not work, so fields are failing to get their water.
The source said fields should be so wet that your feet get stuck in the mud, but they are now dried and cracked. He said with the soil so dry, crops are not getting fertilizer.
The source said to minimize drought damage, you need to irrigate fields as much as possible using pumps. He said to do this, the authorities need to provide supplies such as pumps and hoses to affected regions early.
The source said crafting policies at the right time is important, but the current response has been less than satisfactory, with farmers left with little choice to wait for the rain.
He said even if rain falls in March, declines in harvests are unavoidable, adding that if the drought continues even until April, farmers will have to abandon barley farming this year altogether and turn over their fields.
If North Korea receives insufficient rain, harvests of wheat and barley will significantly drop.
The drought is hurting rice farming, too, so North Korea could experience big problems in distributing food this year.
North Korea has been stressing how it will overcome natural disasters using advanced agricultural technology and scientific farming.
The Rodong Sinmun commented on Saturday that agricultural production has suffered due to harmful, unusual climatic conditions over the last several years, including annual droughts, heat waves, typhoons, floods and cold snaps. It said the way to overcome disasters brought on by the fickle skies and raging natural environment is none other than “scientific farming.”
Contrary to the authorities’ propaganda and slogans, however, “scientific farming” appears to be yielding few results due to poor irrigation facilities, insufficient agricultural supplies, and antiquated farming equipment.