The number of beekeepers producing honey and beeswax in North Korea is being ramped up across the country, including near major cities such as Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) and Chongjin (North Hamgyong Province), Daily NK has learned.
“There are many deep, heavily-forested and mountainous places in Ryanggang Province such as Samjiyon, Pochon and Paekam counties, which are all perfect for beekeeping,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on September 1. “Acacia flowers bloom in May, and the good climate allowed beekeepers to harvest a lot of acacia honey this year.”
Numerous acacia and chestnut trees grow high in the mountains of Ryanggang Province and the area has long been a source of locally-harvested honey for North Korea’s ruling Kim family. Collective farms, local enterprises, along with individual beekeepers and military units with beekeeping operations have recently expanded their activities after receiving permission from forest management offices to do so.
“Initially, it wasn’t expensive to set up a beekeeping operation once people received the know-how required and focused their harvesting in April, May and in the fall, while feeding the bees sugar and spraying for ticks in the winter,” said the source. “There are many more beekeeping operations now that the government has ordered government agencies to increase their production of the substance to earn more foreign currency.”
Temperatures in the depths of winter in Ryanggang Province can fall to 20 degrees below Celsius, however, meaning that beekeepers have to protect the bee colonies from freezing.
Honey from eastern honey bees in North Korea is expensive and used widely for medicinal purposes. North Korea does not produce enough honey through a single harvest per year, and many bee colonies are adversely affected by hornets and disease.
Daily NK sources there has been an increase in beekeepers in Yonsa County in North Hamgyong Province. “Yonsa County has seen a rise in beekeepers who move their beehives there during the spring until fall,” said a Daily NK source based in the province. “There were only two beekeepers per unit in the past, but now there’s three or four.”
The increase in beekeepers has also led to a fall in eastern honey prices from 25,000 Korean People’s Won (KPW, North Korean won) last year per jar to 20,000 KPW per jar while honey from western honey bees has fallen from 18,900 KPW per jar to 13,000 KPW per jar.
The increase in western honey has also been witnessed in Pyongyang. Sogwang, a state-run media outlet, reported in June that there are around 450 Pyongyangites working as beekeepers in the city. “The Korean Beekeepers Association’s Pyongyang Committee has plans to create a ‘model hive’ so that city-goers can make their own honey based on the experiences of quite a few people who have long made honey in Mount Daesong and Moran Hill,” the outlet remarked.
On the outskirts of Pyongyang, there are more trees in the mountains compared to other regions of the country. This has allowed for the continuation of beekeeping in the area, several North Korean defectors told Daily NK. According to them, owning just 15 hives allows one person to make around 100 kilograms of honey every one to two months.
Ordinary residents in the past often found it difficult to buy honey. Recently, however, demand for the sweet substance has increased so much that even local markets, or jangmadang, sell it. North Korean defectors told Daily NK that honey was produced by collective farms, military units and private business people until the 1990s, when Kim Jong Il established the Jongbong Trading Company and had the state take over honey production.
The Jongbong Trading Company has earned money by buying up honey and flowers at rock-bottom prices while selling sugar and insecticides to beekeepers. Beekeepers, for their part, tend to siphon off some of the honey they make to sell in the markets or to government officials for a profit.