North Korea reportedly suffers from serious soil acidification. The country’s authorities are pushing the production of organic fertilizer that can neutralize soil acidity, but according to a source, it cannot be put to good use as the amount of acidic land is so great. 

In a telephone conversation on Monday, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK that authorities have completed a soil survey carried out from last December. “The survey revealed that acidification was serious,” he said.

If the soil is acidified, it cannot provide the nutrients needed to grow crops, negatively impacting agricultural production. It also weakens crops against disease and pests by blocking the development of microbes that help growth.

“It’s a serious problem because the soil acidity is high in major agricultural cities and counties such as Sukchon, Pyongwon, Mundok, Anju and Gaechon,” said the source. “In order to resolve this, the provincial party committee, provincial people’s committee and provincial agricultural management committees have been fully mobilized.”

Generally speaking, soil acidity results from acid rain and excessive use of acidic chemical fertilizers. Since North Korea has been focusing exclusively on boosting yields in the short term through the large-scale use of chemical fertilizers, it is weakening the fertility of the soil and causing serious soil acidity.

The source said soil acidity is not limited to a few regions, but is a nationwide phenomenon. “The fertility of fields is falling in a universal phenomenon in all agricultural villages, and is particularly serious in South and North Pyongan provinces, South Hwanghae Province and Gangwon Province,” he said.

As the two Pyongan and two Hwanghae provinces, along with Gangwon Province, are North Korea’s major breadbaskets, if soil acidity continues to worsen, it is likely to have a negative impact on food production.

experimental fields
Farmland in Chongsan-ri, between Nampo and Pyongyang. / Image: (stephen), Flickr, Creative Commons

Accordingly, authorities are reportedly focusing on improving the country’s ability to produce and transport organic fertilizers such as Hukbosan Fertilizer and Sinyang 2, which can neutralize acidic soil. In fact, authorities are currently improving soil and cold wetlands by spreading dozens of tons of organic fertilizer per jongbo (one jongbo is around 9,917.4㎡) in agricultural fields, as well as bringing earth in from elsewhere to improve the soil. According to the source, however, this accounts for not even 10% of the total area of fields.

Given this situation, North Korea has prepared for farming at the start of every year by focusing on compost production by city and province in order to secure fertilizer and improve acidic soil.

Recently, Daily NK reported that residents of some regions of North Hamgyong Province were allotted the task of producing 150 to 500 kilograms of compost per person.

This was 1.5 to 2.5 times last year’s goal, suggesting that authorities increased the allotment with fertilizer supplies running into problems due to international sanctions and the closure of the border due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, North Korea is making efforts to resolve the lack of food by turning agricultural production into a “critical task.” 

In a Jan. 21 article, Rodong Sinmun wrote that it was the “firm resolution of the our Party” to “finally open a breakthrough in resolving the food, clothing and shelter problem” during the new five-year plan and “bringing about substantive transformation and innovation that the people can directly experience.” It called on all workers in the agricultural sector to “carry high the slogans of ‘protect socialism with rice’ and ‘guard our revolution with rice,’” and to bring about an “epoch-making turnaround in agricultural production” through “total commitment to the struggle to achieve the decisions of the Party Congress.”

However, in reality, not only does North Korea suffer from a lack of fertilizer, but it is hard to get a hold of the agricultural equipment needed for farming. The source said preparations for farming are running into difficulties “from the very beginning” due to the need to repair agricultural equipment and acquire fuel, along with the country’s poor road conditions.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to