North Korea’s salt production industry facing difficulties

Kim Jong Un at Kwisong Saltern in 2016
Kim Jong Un at Kwisong Saltern in 2016. Image: Yonhap News Agency

Shoddy construction at the saltworks in South Pyongan Province, one of North Korea’s largest, has meant that the facility has been undergoing continuous repairs instead of manufacturing salt, sources recently told Daily NK. Salt production is generally unaffected by the droughts that cause falls in grain product, but this year, North Korea appears likely to face difficulties in its salt production.

“Officials at Namyang Saltern in Sukchon County have sounded the alarm,” said a source in South Pyongan Province. “Shoddy construction has caused water in the retention basin to flow out of the facility, so it looks like this year’s salt production will have difficulties.”

The issues are primarily due to substandard improvements made at Namyang Saltern which were conducted in 2017 and aimed at modernizing its facilities. The project was the responsibility of the Salt Industry Management Department within the Ministry of Chemical Industry. Retention basins store seawater and are considered critical for North Korea’s saltworks because the country relies on sundried salt, and the capacity for these retention basins to store water alters the amount of salt accessible in a given year.

“Laborers have been deployed to put the seawater back into the retention basin by hand and with pumps, but there’s just not enough people,” the source explained.

“We’re heading into early summer, so there’s no rain and the weather is dry. It’s the perfect time for producing salt. The focus, however, is on cleaning up the mess,” the source said. “The summer’s torrential rains will soon be coming, so everyone’s concerned about what to do about salt production.”

Namyang Saltern is located on the west coast of North Korea and was upgraded as part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to modernize the country’s infrastructure. After the saltworks was modernized in 2017, then Premier Park Pong Ju visited the site in August 2018. Park ordered salt production to be increased by industrializing, integrating and mechanizing salt production with seawater and underground saltwater.

North Korea only produces small volumes of salt, so the mineral is considered valuable. Salt refinement facilities in North Korea are in poor shape and refinement technology is outdated, so increasing salt production is challenging. Electricity supplies to the saltworks are also unreliable.

“Salt produced by the Namyang Saltern comprises a great deal of the overall salt production by North Korea. [The facility’s troubles] will greatly impact the country’s efforts to increase salt production,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

Kim Jong Un visited the Kwisong Saltern in 2016 and has encouraged further production several times over the years, emphasizing that “salt production is an important issue [to North Korea] and as important as food production. We can become self-sufficient [in salt production] if we are determined to do so […] Salt is an important resource for industries in our country and we must guarantee its production by working to produce more of it.”