Potatoes and barley distributed to hungry farmers in North Korea

North Korean text showing early cultivated potatoes
North Korean text showing early cultivated potatoes. Image: DailyNK

Farmers in Ryanggang Province are harvesting potatoes that were cultivated early in the season, as well as barley. This is reportedly relieving some of the pressure on food supplies during the so-called “spring starvation period” in North Korea.

“Potatoes and barley are being harvested right now and in Pochon, Sinpa and Paekam counties some of the potatoes are being distributed to farmers earlier than usual,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source.

The poor harvest last year led to concerns amongst farmers that they would be facing a spring this year without enough food.

“There are potato, wheat and barley types with short cultivation periods that allow two harvests (one in autumn and one in spring),” said the source. “This has shortened the period in which food production dips, and people’s concerns have eased.”

The work unit heads at each farm conducted surveys of farming families facing food supply issues earlier this year. Around 10 families per work unit (comprising 50 – 100 laborers) were found to have too little food, and the new supplies will reach them first. The rest will be distributed in the fall, according to a separate source in Ryanggang Province.

Potatoes harvested in Ryanggang Province have a lot of moisture and low starch content, meaning that they can only be stored for up to 40 days. Unlike the crops planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, if barley is cultivated early, it does not yield as much grain. For this reason, those farmers who are not facing a lack of food in the spring prefer to receive their share in the fall.

“In Pochon County, potatoes that went for 600 KPW are now going for 500 KPW, and even in Hyesan they are going for 550 KPW,” the additional source said. “There’s not a lot of early barley in the markets this year, it costs about the same as fall barley.”

Harvests of early-cultivated crops began last month in other parts of North Korea, including South and North Pyongan provinces and the two Hwanghae provinces. Crop harvests in the colder northern region of the country will begin from early to mid-June.

The sources also noted that harvests of mountain greens and vegetables have also begun in recent days, so many people are facing less pressure to obtain food.

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