North Korea Shuts Down Most of Its Complex Microbial Fertilizer Factories

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

A source inside North Korea reports that most of the country’s complex microbial fertilizer factories built during the mass starvation period in 1990s for increase of food production have been shut down.

The source said, “Those factories built between 1996 and 1997 in Kyongsung county of North Hamkyung Province had produced fertilizers only for one year following the construction. The year after, they were shut down. Now, the factory buildings are cleared”

North Korean media has praised till quite recently about North Korea’s advanced technology for producing complex microbial fertilizers. They said that the country’s fertilizer-producing technology and nature farming methods helped solve the food crisis and protect the ecosystem of North Korea. South Korean media have also once positively reported upon North Korea’s new fertilizer-producing technology.

However, the source said, “The situation is pretty much the same across the country. Most factories had stopped operating the year after the construction. It was Kim Jong Il who gave orders to build those fertilizer plants. But many factories fell into ruins.”

North Korea had built more than one hundred complex microbial fertilizer plants throughout the country during the mass starvation period in 1990s because it needed quite an amount of fertilizers to increase crop production.

The agricultural technology, which uses complex microbial fertilizers is a natural farming method developed by Dr. Teruo Higa, a professor at Ryukus University, Okinawa, Japan and the founder of Effective Microorganisms(EM) technology. Since complex microbial fertilizers contain 100 times more nutrients than ordinary fertilizers, they are used in many places in South Korea such as Yichu city of Kyungki Province where environment-friendly agriculture method is being practiced.

When crop production rapidly decreased in the mid 1990s, the failure was attributed to soil acidification, and Kim Jong Il urged his people to spread burnt soil, decomposed grass and compound fertilizers composed of soil, manure and chemical fertilizers over the field.

Unfortunately, that did not work. Then, Kim Jong Il gave another order to produce complex microbial fertilizers in large quantities in an attempt to increase crop production. Upon his order, North Korea started promoting the construction of complex microbial fertilizer plants through Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan) and built more than one hundred factories nationwide for the period of one year including ‘Patriotic Center for Complex Microorganism,’ whose construction work was completed in June, 1997.

Many North Koreans had to use pure grain to make complex microorganisms instead of costly granulated sugar. However, that was a bad idea because there was food shortage across nation and a great number of people were staving to death. Moreover, North Korea should not have wasted grain for microorganism production in such situation because it takes three years to see any effect of the use of microorganisms on crop production.

Kim Yong Hwa (pseudonym), a defector from Hyesan city of Yangkang Province, who used to work at ‘Patriotic Center for Complex Microorganism’ said, “350 kg of corn is used to make one ton of fermentation solution. That amount of corn is sufficient enough to feed one person for an entire year. Overall, the plant had used 38 tons of corn during its first two- year operation.”

The defector said, “The workers received food ration, but it wasn’t enough. So, many people stole corn power and even fermentation solution from the factory.” The defector added, “When people heard that we were using corn to make fertilizers, they found it hard to believe at first, but soon flared up in anger, saying ‘those microorganisms are eating us.’”

The defector said, “In addition, we did not know what to do with microorganisms we had produced because we didn’t have gas and a means of transportation. Sometimes, containers for storing microorganisms were lost or broken. We also had difficulty to move around microorganisms because they were produced in liquid form.”

Kim said the locals did not believe the expert’s explanation that microorganisms would produce germs three years later, which produce nitrogen gas, and therefore make soil rich. He said that the locals disapproved the use of corn for the production of microorganisms, and had no interest in sowing microorganisms in the field. Therefore, Kim said, the plant had to close.

South Korean experts have continued to point out the problem of soil acidification in North Korea and encourage the use of organic fertilizers. Nevertheless, many defectors criticized the use of grain for the production of complex microbial fertilizers for being detached from the realities of food situation in North Korea.

Lee Min Bok, a defector who used to work at North Korean Academy of Agricultural Science, said, “Staring with 1979, soil acidification became a serious problem, and Kim Jung Il has been giving orders to improve soil condition. The use of microorganisms can better the condition to some extent. However, North Korea needs to come up with comprehensive policies on its agricultural structure, anti-flood afforestation, and the establishment of production systems for chemical and organic fertilizers to solve the acidification problem.”

The source inside North Korea said, “In 1996, the authorities began praising about the effect of complex microbial fertilizers. Disappointedly, there weren’t any significant effect. So, starting with 1999, many fertilizers plants began to shut down.” The source added, “Most plants fell into ruin except few large factories such as Patriotic Center for Complex Microorganism in Pyongyang and a fertilizer plant in Rasun.”

North Korea began to display an interest in the production of complex microbial fertilizers because it had failed to produce enough manure and chemical fertilizers before. The South Korean government agreed to provide North Korea with 300,000 tons of chemical fertilizers this year and 400,000 tons next year.

According to Rodong Shinmun (North Korean state newspaper), Kim Jong Il spoke about the worldwide decrease in the production of chemical fertilizers, and stressed the importance of the use of microbial fertilizers in May, 2004.


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