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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
North Korean farmers are using a “scientific farming” application aimed at increasing crop output, a state-run outlet reported earlier in the month.
“365 Days Chonhajidaebon is now highly popular among the (North Korean) farmers for substantially contributing to the crop output,” state organ DPRK Today said on January 19.
“The program, based on a detailed weather database of each of the zones, provides information on how to raise grain, vegetables, fruit trees and animal husbandry.”
While it may be helpful in some cases, one long-time North Korea agriculture researcher questioned the practicality of this application, saying it will most likely need multiple updates to be fully functional.
The application can be installed on tablet computers and cell phones and works as a digital agricultural journal, it said, providing access for farmers, business persons, households, and government organizations across the country.
While the article did not explain the meaning of its name, it is most likely named after Nongja-Chonhajidaebon, a major national philosophy under Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897) meaning “farmers are the backbone of the country.”
North Korean media repeatedly claimed that through “scientific farming”, this application would help to increase the North Korean crop output. However, a Seoul-based farming expert remained skeptical about the claims.
“Currently in North Korea, state farming management committees from each province are providing help for the farmers using verbal or documental communications,” Kwon Tae-jin, director of East Asia research at the GS&J Institute, told NK News.
“The fact that they are digitalizing that analog process is worth the note. But it said the application provides help based on each province and county, and such data would be far too broad to be applied to the site-specific farming.”
While mobile phone use in North Korea is on the rise, the country’s agriculture sector remains rudimentary: farmers do not have access to good equipment or fertilizers, and must often work by hand due to machinery shortages.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which has a presence in the country, cites a lack of adequate farming equipment as one of the most consistent issues in North Korea’s agricultural sector and development.
In a 2013 report, the FAO wrote that due to equipment and diesel shortages that “mechanized land preparation could only be carried out on about 60 percent of their arable area, with the remaining land being prepared by oxen.”
Experts have argued that only 50% of the country’s farming is mechanized, but Kim Jong Un has pledged that the number will rise to 70% in the next five years. The likelihood of farmers having fully working mobile phones or tablets capable of using the application is, however, extremely low.
And while the application could still help farmers, but carried a high risk of them receiving miscalculated data, Kwon said, presuming that the application will need updates and patches to be useable on a day-to-day basis.
The slogan “scientific farming” was mentioned by Kim Jong Un during his most recent New Year’s Address. During the speech, Kim Jong Un said that the North should “raise a strong wind of scientific farming” to increase crop yield, but did not fully explain the idea.
The slogan made a major appearance again on the first page of yesterday’s Rodong Sinmun, appearing over 30 times, in which it claimed that the Worker’s Party has succeeded in putting the North’s crop yield into “ascending orbit” using the “scientific farming” strategy over the last few years.
But Rodong still has not explained the concept of the slogan, only saying that “learning the latest scientific farming methods” and “planning the year’s farming based on science and technology” are the key tenants of the idea.
“Well, it is true that the crop output of the North has limitedly increased since Kim Jong Un took the office,” Kwon added. “While Kim indeed tried to increase the supply of fertilizer, fuel, and electricity for the farming, it still is not enough. Based on the current status of the North, I do not think such farming resources will be abundant anytime soon.”
Featured Image: DPRK Today