Apparent outbreak of African Swine Fever in North Korea

A scene from Sakju County, North Pyongan Province
A scene from Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

African Swine Fever (ASF) is on the rise in China and other areas in Asia recently, and the disease has now spread to North Korea, according to multiple sources inside the country.

ASF began to spread in the Hyungjaesan District, Sungho District and other areas on the outskirts of Pyongyang from mid-February and has led to the deaths of many pigs that had been raised by families.

When ASF began to spread, North Korean authorities prohibited the distribution and sale of pork from late February and there are still prohibitions on the sale of pork at markets and raising pigs.

North Koreans, however, are still selling pork at markets despite these restrictions.

“People are selling the pigs in the markets regardless of the what the authorities say,” a a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK April 23. “There are a lot of people who are buying the meat of pigs that died of the disease and butchered pigs as well.”

A North Pyongan Province-based source told the Daily NK that ASF struck pigs in Kusong starting in February. “The disease isn’t as bad as it was before…but the authorities are cracking down on the sale of pork at markets where it has spread,” he said.

There are rumors among North Koreans that ASF is spread through the air.

“People think that the disease is spread through the air,” said a separate Pyongyang-based source, while an additional North Pyongan Province-based source told the Daily NK that “there are rumors that wild boars are also infected so people think that ASF started with the wild boars and spread through the air.”

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) stated in its Early Warning Early Action Report on Food Security and Agriculture released on April 15 that North Korea is a high-risk country due to ASF.

The report said that an ASF outbreak was first confirmed in Liaoning Province, China, by Chinese authorities in early August of last year, and that the disease spread to Mongolia and Vietnam in January and February. The report did not mention whether ASF had begun to spread in North Korea or not, but said that other Asia countries such as the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are at risk.

The FAO reported that there were two cases of ASF found on the border with North Korea in China in February, and recommended that North Korean authorities raise their awareness of the issue and the need for urgent support to eradicate a potential outbreak.

FAO officials visited Pyongyang late last year to discuss the strengthening of North Korea’s ability to identify ASF and the need to respond to outbreaks of the virus with officials from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Academy of Agriculture.

According to the FAO, the FAO’s representative for North Korea and China, Dr. Vincent Martin, visited Pyongyang from December 10 to 13 to discuss the current ASF outbreak in China with North Korean officials along with the possibility of its spread to North Korea and the threat it poses to North Korea’s pork production.

ASF is a virus-based disease that occurs in pigs and wild boars and has a 100% fatality rate. No medicines or vaccines have been developed yet so the disease can severely impact the agricultural industry and food security.

The South Korean government is closely watching the outbreak of ASF in China and other parts of Asia and plans to discuss the need for inter-Korean cooperation in dealing with the disease.