The blueberry picking season in Yanggang Province’s Taehongdan, Baekam and Samjiyon counties began on Saturday, with local authorities in Baekam County mobilizing students for the harvest, according to a Daily NK source in the province on Tuesday.
“As rumors spread that there are fewer blueberries compared to last year, there is talk that they will sell for a higher price this year,” the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily NK. “As a result, greater numbers of people are flocking to the blueberry fields than last year.”
The source further pointed out that “business is poor across the whole country with the border closed due to COVID-19, so people are hoping to pick medicinal herbs or wild fruit to sell for money.”
The source’s report suggests that North Koreans are intent on picking blueberries to overcome the economic strife stemming from COVID-19 and longstanding sanctions against North Korea.
“In Baekam County, many people from Hyesan are flooding into Chonsu, Namyang and Dokrip Workers’ District, so some locals are even going out in the dead of night to areas with a high volume of fruit,” the source said. “It’s not just rural residents, but also city dwellers who are showing up to pick blueberries.”
It is notable that people are attempting to travel even though movement is likely difficult because of the country’s “maximum emergency system,” which was put in place after a defector was found to have crossed the inter-Korean border recently. The number of blueberry pickers sent by factories and businesses, however, is reportedly only half that of last year.
“Some urbanites are paying guest houses a fee to hire a local familiar with the area to show them around,” the source said. “The picking of medicinal herbs in Yanggang Province began in June, and the mejoji [a type of fruit similar to blueberries] harvest takes place in July, so a lot of people have set up tents and are living in the mountains.”
The source further said that “blueberry plants produce new fruit within three days of being picked, so some people remain in the same location for several days.”
Blueberry pickers in the province are reportedly selling the fruit to the government via blueberry processing factories in areas such as Baekam County and Samjiyon County. To obtain more berries, these factories have increased the number and quantity of “rewards” provided to berry pickers, according to the source.
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