While discussing ways to produce tangible results this year at the 4.25 Tobacco Farm (Onsong, North Hamgyong Province), which had suffered unprecedented financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 crisis, a work unit at a farm was reportedly given land and ordered to try farming different crops instead.

A source based in the North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday that “the 4.25 Tobacco Farm in Onsong had performed poorly last year because they had been unable to export the cigarettes they made. As it was feared that this year would be a failure again, the workers made the bold decision after much discussion to provide land to a work unit on one of the farms for the farmers to farm on a trial basis.”

According to the source, as exports were blocked by lockdowns due to COVID-19, the cigarettes produced at the Onsong tobacco farm last year have remained in storage. Moreover, as the cigarettes had not been cared for properly, over 50% of the products were spoiled by rotting, and even the ones that were left were no longer of first-rate quality. As such, farmers have been very distressed, as there is no guarantee that these products will be marketable even if a route for exports was to reopen in the future.

Various brands of North Korean cigarettes. / Image: Daily NK

In response, tobacco farm managers met the provincial rural management committee and other organizations multiple times to discuss whether a profit could be made by producing and selling other crops from the farmland instead.

While they had been hesitant to make a decision, one farm decided to allot the relatively richer 30% of their farmland to produce tobacco crops, while the remaining 70% of the land would be given to farmers to farm.

“The land needed to be distributed as soon as possible so that the farmers could till the soil and prepare for their new crop, but because the decision was delayed, the land was distributed around the beginning of February,” the source said, adding, “As this farm had already tried this type of farming a few years ago, they used this experience to distribute 200 pyong [661.1 square meters] of land to every farmer, regardless of age.”

How much of the total yield from each farmer should be handed over to the government will be decided when the harvest begins in the fall. 

Agricultural authorities have recommended other farms to adopt similar farming methods in order to prevent last year’s poor harvest from reoccurring, but other farms have opposed distributing land to farmers, the source said.

“Farmers are complaining that farm managers are opposing the measure to hand out farmland because they believe there will be less crops they can steal in the autumn,” he added.

*Translated by Esther Ra

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.