North Korean farmers are showing up less and less to work the fields and farm families are facing serious food shortages, Daily NK sources have reported. 

“People’s committees in cities and counties are taking the situation very seriously. They say that the attendance rate among farm workers has dropped conspicuously,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Mar. 12. “The sowing of the fields began earlier this month, but progress is slow because the farm workers aren’t coming to work.”

The source speculated that around 90% of farmers would show up to work the farms in the past, but now only 60% of farmers are showing up – at least in farms in South Pyongan Province. 

This drop can be attributed to food shortages among farming families. Essentially, farmers are unable to come to work because they are not getting enough food to eat. 

“About 5% of the families at a cooperative farm in Anju have run out of food,” said a source. “If 5% of the farms have already depleted their food stores, then when things get really difficult in April and May because of the barley hump, the percentage of struggling farm families is likely to rise to 20% or 30%, maybe even 40% to 50%.”


Usually, farmers and their families run out of food in late March or early April; this year, however, food shortages are happening earlier than usual. 

Last year saw North Korea suffer from droughts and a devastating hurricane that led to poor farm yields. 

Typhoon Lingling, which hit North Korea last September, caused a great deal of damage to crops in the country’s breadbasket, an area that includes South Hwanghae Province and South Pyongan Province.  

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported in September that Typhoon Lingling caused five deaths and submerged farmland throughout the country. The news agency also said that three people had been injured and that a total of around 458 square kilometers of farmland had either been submerged or had its crops destroyed.

The shutdown of the Sino-North Korean border in late January and the subsequent halt of much small-scale smuggling have also played a part in food shortages among farmers. 

Imports of rice, corn, flour and other grains from China were suspended following the closure of North Korea’s borders, and the temporary increase in the price of grain in North Korean markets has only exacerbated the economic hardships faced by North Koreans.


The North Korean regime has emphasized “struggling through hardships” and self-reliance, but “this doesn’t mean much if you’re not getting enough to eat,” one source said. 

At the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee plenary session held in December, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed agricultural improvements as key to making the country more self-reliant. 

The site on Kim’s “on-the-spot guidance” itinerary in 2020 was the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory in South Pyongan Province.

According to state media, Kim visited the factory to “re-emphasize that it [the factory] is one of Party’s most valued assets to fulfill this year’s economic goals.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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