Farmer harvest Sariwon
North Korean farmers conducting the fall harvest in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province. (Rodong Sinmun)

An agricultural system recently implemented in select areas of North Korea has experienced success among some farms in Ryanggang Province, Daily NK sources have reported. 

“The individual vegetable garden responsibility system [also referred to as the “individual field management system”] was found to be superior than collective farming practices in Hyesan, and Pochon and Unhung counties,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK last Wednesday. 

The new agricultural system was originally introduced in North Pyongan Province as part of a very limited test run. North Korean authorities then expanded the system to several regions in Ryanggang Province this year. Under the system, each farmer is given 300-500 pyong (around 991 to 1650 square meters) of land and must take full responsibility for the entire farming process.

The new system is an upgrade from the vegetable garden responsibility system, which was announced by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2012. This system has allowed families instead of farm units to manage vegetable plots and requires that only a set amount of crops go to the state. The rest of the crops produced has been given to the farmers themselves. The system has reportedly shown mixed results among farmers in South Pyongan Province. 

The individual vegetable garden responsibility system, in contrast, places the full brunt of responsibility for farming on the heads of farmers. 

The new system has been compared to China’s household responsibility system (or contract responsibility system), which reduced government-set quotas and essentially held local agricultural managers responsible for farming losses and profits. The Chinese implemented the system in 1979 and it dramatically raised the standard-of-living for many Chinese farmers.  

In North Korea’s system, collective farm management committees issue seeds, fertilizer and pesticides directly to farmers. The committees hand out these supplies on the condition that farmers will repay the committees with crops from the fall harvest equaling 10 times the cost of the original supplies. 

Daily NK sources said that yields from fields operating under the new system have been higher than those from traditional collective farms. 

“Ryanggang Province is a mountainous region, so the crops we planted were mostly barley and potatoes. Farmers worked hard under the new system and they produced more plentiful and better quality crops than regular farms,” one Daily NK source in the province said. 

One indicator of the success of the new agricultural system was that farms operating under the new system were better weeded than those worked by traditional collective farm units. 

“Individual farmers directly purchased whatever extra fertilizer and pesticides they needed. The farmers invested a lot into their farms and even helped each other out or paid others to help with the farm work,” the source explained. “Some farms with a good harvest witnessed a doubling of their crop yields compared to last year.”

Of course, the more effort an individual farmer puts into the land the more productive they will be, another Daily NK source said. 

“Although the harvest differs from individual to individual, I confirmed myself that farmers working under the new system produced better results than unit-based collective farming,” the source added.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to