North Korean authorities recently instructed farm and agricultural management committees across the country to eradicate “illegal and corrupt activities” involving “experimental fields” located on farms, Daily NK has learned.

Experimental fields are parcels of farmland administered by “test production units” under the supervision of each cooperative farm management committee’s technical guidance officer. 

Unlike regular farm production units, which must meet yearly agricultural production quotas set by the state, test production units conduct long-term research projects on new ways to develop seeds, the latest farming methods and innovative ways to enhance soil quality. 

The orders to eradicate corruption around these experimental fields is likely tied to the “frontal breakthrough” campaign that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unveiled at the year-end Central Committee plenary session of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

“Although various WPK decrees relating to agriculture have been issued in the past, this is the first time that the experimental field issue was singled out and orders given to eradicate corruption so early in the new year,” a North Hwanghae Province source told Daily NK on Wednesday.

North Korean authorities have generally assigned agricultural university graduates to experimental fields located in their hometowns, where they are tasked with developing seeds based on their region’s specific climate and characteristics of the local soil. 

Experimental fields were initially started to remedy the country’s food shortages through a so-called “seed revolution.” The fields are modeled after those established by former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, who cultivated his own garden to study “Juche” (a word roughly translating to “self-reliance”)-based farming methods and the cultivation of rice and vegetables.

ENDING CORRUPTION INVOLVING EXPERIMENTAL FIELDS

In more recent years, however, farms began to use experimental fields to produce highly sought-after crops such as watermelon or Korean chamoe (melons). These fruits have been used as bribes for managers and officials and this state of affairs has fueled discontent among many ordinary North Koreans. 

Daily NK sources reported that many North Koreans complain that it’s hard to tell whether the purpose of the experimental fields is to end foot shortages or to produce valuable crops to use as bribes for officials.

“People are saying that they are fed up with how [collective farms] are using the land entrusted to them not to do the seed development research they’re supposed to, but turning them into personal greenhouses catering to the petty tastes of officials. Meanwhile, ordinary people are barely scraping by without so much as corn to eat,” one source told Daily NK. “They are saying that it is refreshing to hear the WPK criticize such corrupt activities.” 

Daily NK sources said that some North Koreans are hoping that the agricultural sector will now focus on fixing the food supply issues faced by ordinary people. Others hope that the land used for experimental fields will be drastically reduced or converted into regular farmland that can produce grain to feed ordinary people.

According to sources, North Koreans see the WPK’s anti-corruption drive as a sign that Kim Jong Un intends to make resolving food shortages faced by ordinary North Koreans his utmost priority. North Koreans think that the latest decree is aimed at sternly reprimanding agricultural workers and encouraging them to work in a “revolutionary” fashion to achieve the goals of the “seed revolution.”  

Indeed, Daily NK sources noted that experimental fields were among the projects that came under heavy criticism at the year-end plenary session.

EXPERIMENTAL FIELDS FACE HARSHER SCRUTINY

Daily NK sources further reported that after the year-end plenary session, the South Hwanghae Province Farm Management Committee submitted a report to the Ministry of Agriculture providing an overview of the experimental fields in the province.

The report included measurements and soil analyses of each experimental field in all of the province’s collective farms. It also had listings of all the crops cultivated in the experimental fields along with the results of research conducted in the fields from the past seven years. 

experimental fields
Images from a collective farm in Chongsan-ri. / Image: Daily NK

The report is likely part of an effort by the Kim regime to reinstate discipline among agricultural workers before the new agricultural season begins.

North Korean leaders are probably aiming to get a clear understanding of the successes and mistakes made in the operation of the experimental fields since Kim Jong Un took power in 2012. 

REGIME TO SEND MORE STUDENTS TO THE FIELDS

Daily NK sources also added that agricultural officials plan to send more agricultural and livestock university graduates to farms and experimental fields following the year-end plenary session. These efforts are likely aimed at reinvigorating agricultural initiatives. 

Sources suggested that some agricultural workers are optimistic about the prospect of these graduates working at the farms. 

One was quoted as saying, “When the graduates arrive, they will run the experimental fields properly by conducting substantial, scientific farming technique research projects, and turn them into initiatives that can realistically improve crop production.”

However, Daily NK sources also cautioned that some agricultural workers are pessimistic about new graduates coming to the farms.

“It’s obvious that the graduates will only stay at the farms long enough to use it as a launchpad for appointment to managerial positions,” one agricultural worker was reported as saying. “Given the difficulties facing the country, would they really want to stay in farming villages?”

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.