There have been signs recently that North Korea is running into serious difficulties with its corn harvest. Insufficient supplies of basic agricultural supplies such as fertilizer and farm machinery, combined with a lack of proper manpower, have reportedly caused corn fields to be overrun by weeds. There is also concern that unless corn is imported from China, corn prices could skyrocket.

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Sunday that in the major corn producing regions of Gaechon, Tokchon and Maengsan, farmers have not been able to weed the corn fields. “Since there are too many weeds, it’s impeding the growth of the corn,” he said. 

By mid-June, farmers should have begun their third round of weeding. The source said, however, that there are fields where farmers have not weeded at all.

According to a survey by South Pyongan Province’s collective farm management committee, about 70% of the area of the province’s corn fields have yet to receive their first round of weeding.

A lack of fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, farm materials, and work cows is reportedly to blame for the lack of weeding. 

“[Farmers] can’t plow the fields, either, because of the lack of work cows,” said the source. “There are insufficient supplies of all the materials needed for farming.” 

Corn in Samsu County, Yanggang Province, in 2019. / Image: Daily NK

This means that though you can eliminate weeds to a degree even without pulling them out by hand if you have sufficient fertilizer, these chemicals are lacking, too. Moreover, with manpower currently focused on planting rice fields across North Korea, corn fields do not have enough people to weed. 

Climatic conditions are reportedly having an ill effect on the corn harvest, too. Cold spells alternated with periods of high temperatures this spring, and there were frequent rains.

Amid all of this, North Korean authorities have belatedly begun taking measures to deal with the situation. They have reportedly meted out punishments to managers of corn farms in South Pyongan Province, holding them responsible for farming-related problems. 

The source said farm managers were given “10 days in the stockade” for failing to properly manage their crops. He warned, however, that the real issue “wasn’t one that would be resolved by punishing those in charge.”

With North Korean corn prices continuing to rise, concern is mounting that without corn imports from abroad, corn prices could skyrocket in the second half of the year.

The insufficient supply of corn internationally along with poor harvests in Central and South America has led to speculation that corn production will fall and a continuous rise in corn prices.

Additionally, Beijing issued an advisory last month to reduce the corn content in pig and poultry feed, which has led Chinese corn farms to reduce production. As a result, corn prices in China are expected to climb for the time being. 

Should North Korea’s corn harvest shrink this year, stabilizing prices will likely prove difficult even if the country imports corn from China.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to