N. Korean farmers increasingly renting out idle land

Sources tell Daily NK a major reason is because of increasing "rural flight" due to difficult farming conditions

A farmer in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea uses oxen to work the land.
A farmer in North Hamgyong Province uses oxen to work the land. Image: Daily NK file photo

Farms in the mountainous inland areas of South Pyongan Province are increasingly renting out idle land left unused because of farm worker shortages, Daily NK has learned from local sources.  

Rather than cultivating the unused land themselves, farmers in the mountainous inland regions such as those in the counties of Yangdok, Nyongwon, Taehung, and Maengsan have been loaning the land to municipal organizations, businesses, the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea, universities, and even primary, middle and high schools.

Rental fees for fallow land vary according to the yields of the farms renting them, but prices are generally said to be set at the market rate of 30% of the farm’s total yield. If a farm’s yield is one ton, for example, the rental fee would be the market value of 300 kilograms of its total crop.

North Korean students farm mobilization
North Korean students in a truck driving along the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Kang Dong-wan, Professor, Dong-A University

There is reportedly a clear demand for idle fields in the province. The education department of the province’s people’s committee recently decided to have its schools purchase rights to cultivate idle farmland as part of efforts to tackle food shortages.

Local schools are expected to mobilize their students to secure grain seeds and fertilizer and even work the land, sources said. 

INCREASING “RURAL FLIGHT”

The farms are choosing to rent out their idle land because there is increasingly not enough farmers to cultivate crops, Daily NK sources explained. 

“According to an end-of-the-year survey of the results of the ‘Juche [self-reliance] Farming Method’ [North Korea’s own “scientific” method of organic farming] which was conducted by the province’s Farm Management Committee, there are numerous farms in the mountainous inland regions of South Pyongan Province that have idle land,” one source told Daily NK.

“This is because farmers are leaving rural areas for the cities in search of work,” he added. 

“Farmers in mountainous regions of the province are saying that they fear starving to death,” another source said, adding that farmers leaving their farms is becoming a serious social issue in North Korea. 

While farms near cities are able to turn a moderately stable profit via the market even when harvests are relatively poor, farmers in mountainous regions rely entirely on their harvests to survive. They are frequently at the mercy of bad harvests, which can cause starvation. 

Farmers in these mountainous regions are increasingly leaving for nearby cities in search of work, figuring that they cannot simply sit around until they starve to death, Daily NK sources said. 

Last month, Daily NK reported that poor harvests—stemming in part from both natural disasters and economic sanctions—have pushed financially strapped farmers to collect gold dust to make a living.

A source quoted at the time said that the work attendance of farmers (once as high as 80%, when farmers would come to secretly pocket the loose grain in harvesters and threshers) has now become conspicuously low. 

The source added that rural flight is becoming common among farmers in immediate need of an income.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.