Work on a major “vegetable greenhouse farm” near the North Korean east-coast city of Kyongsong has picked up in recent months, satellite imagery shows, following the project’s announcement in state media last summer.

Other major construction projects near Kyongsong, such as a long-stalled hotel and a natural springs resort, have also seen progress this year, according to the imagery.

It is possible that DPRK leader Kim Jong Un inspected the sites before and/or after his trip to Russia last week, which saw his armored train depart from and arrive back at Kyongsong Station on April 24 and 27. 

South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo published a report on Tuesday identifying the station following speculation over why Kim Jong Un’s customary departure and arrival ceremonies were not conducted in Pyongyang.

Further independent analysis by NK Pro indicates Kyongsong was indeed the location of Kim’s station platform ceremonies last week, raising the possibility that on-site inspections of a range of projects in the region were conducted and may be released in state media in the coming days.

The platform of Kyongsong Station as shown in the documentary aired over the weekend on Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia. During the documentary, the narrator said “residents of North Hamgyong Province” – where Kyongsong is located – came out to welcome Kim home | Photo: KCTV

It would follow a similar occurrence last summer, when eight site inspections and visits were published on the same day on July 17, including those covering the new vegetable greenhouse farm, the nearby Yombunjin Hotel, and the Onpho Holiday Camp.

Food for the province

Originally referred to as a spur-of-the-moment idea for a construction project by Kim Jong Un at the site of an old airfield, the Onpho Greenhouse Farm (온포온실농장) appears to be shaping up to be one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country.

It was announced in the July 17 report during Kim’s inspection of Jungphyong-ri, where the DPRK leader reportedly “clarified the long-term plan for building a huge vegetable greenhouse farm.”

The new greenhouse farm construction site (including temporary structures) covers an area of land larger than the main area of nearby Kyongsong | Photo: Google Earth, annotated by NK Pro

A report carried in the party-run daily Rodong Sinmun on March 13 this year recalled the supposed story of how the idea for the project came about, with Kim Jong Un “suddenly” asking out loud hours after visiting the airfield: “What do you think about trying to build a vegetable greenhouse farm there?”

Now, the farm has taken shape in a roughly 2.7-square-kilometer area spanning the land between Kyongsong and the East Sea – an area larger than the new Wonsan-Kalma Tourist Zone.

Construction began in August, high-resolution satellite imagery provided by Google Earth show, with the appearance by September 12 of around 100 temporary structures on the razed grounds of the old airfield and demolition beginning on the adjacent village.

By October 9, temporary structures that were built up on the runway were moved to fields just to the north, and most of the village – which included at least 125 residential homes and at least 30 other buildings – had been demolished.

Roads have also been built between the construction site and the estuary to the north in several spots, likely to gather dirt or other materials.

This timelapse of satellite imagery shows the Onpho greenhouse project’s progress between August 2018 and March 2019 | Click to enlarge | Photo: Google Earth, annotated by NK Pro

The initial report announcing the project in the Rodong stated that the “air force regiment in Jungphyong-ri [would] be removed according to a decision made by the Central Military Commission of the Party,” but the demolition of the village was not mentioned.

The temporary structures area, which includes both housing for workers and storage and staging areas for building materials, continued to grow and see activity throughout October.

The last structures in the village were also demolished in this time, as materials began to be gathered and organized across the entire construction site.

By November 27, the site grew on the east and west ends to its current perimeter, and in an image of the snow-covered zone from December 8, only a single completed structure was visible. 

Appearing to be a large greenhouse, possibly a model unit used for demonstration purposes, 37 outlines of the same size as that structure appeared, arranged diagonally, carved into the dirt throughout the site by March 16, 2019-dated imagery.

Other elements of the project had also begun to see considerable progress by March, too, such as a complex of around 45 foundations appearing to be residential buildings located in the zone’s west corner.

The main elements of the new greenhouse farm are annotated in the March 16, 2019 image, while the August 4, 2018 image is included for comparison | Click to enlarge | Photo: Google Earth, annotated by NK Pro

In the initial state media report, Kim Jong Un reportedly “called for building the farmers’ residential area and cultural and welfare establishments in a modern and civilized way,” with the article describing the new “farm village as a model of socialist rural cultural construction and socialist paradise in which it is nice to live and work.”

What appear to be nursery facilities have emerged just to the east, with foundations for at least six large buildings in the center and around eight large buildings along the eastern edge also being built between December and March, satellite imagery shows.

Recounted in a report in the Rodong on a second visit to the site in mid-August, Kim Jong Un reportedly requested that a “modern tree nursery” be added, “given the huge site for the greenhouse farm.”

The purpose of the project was described in the report as one intended to boost food supplies in the region, calling it the “important work of bringing benefits to the diet of the people in North Hamgyong Province.”

The area should be turned “into a ‘gold land’ so as to prove the validity and vitality of the Party’s policies in practice and give full play to them,” the report added.

An aerial view of the old airfield and part of the village where the greenhouse farm is now being built, taken during Kim’s inspection of the site in August 2018 | Photo: KCNA

On top of the creation of a new organization under the State Affairs Commission (SAC) announced during the 1st Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in early April – the “Supervisory Bureau of Forestry Policy” – the size and scope of the Onpho Greenhouse Farm is likely yet another sign of the importance of the sector under present DPRK domestic policy.

A target completion date has yet to be announced, though Kim during his August visit reportedly ordered the greenhouse and tree nursery projects be completed by the “earliest possible date.”

The project’s importance is also underlined by its mention in a recent report on the work of the state budget.

That report listed the Onpho Greenhouse Farm among other well-known projects such as the “sprucing up of Samjiyon County as an iconic mountainous city of modern civilization and socialist utopia and construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area.”

Other construction projects near Kyongsong

Two other major construction projects publicized in the spree of reporting on Kim Jong Un on-site visits last July included the Yombunjin Hotel (염분진호텔) and the Onpho Holiday Camp (온포휴양소), which have also seen progress in recent months according to satellite imagery.

Kim was notably “extremely furious” at poor management of these long-delayed construction projects during his visits last summer, and called for both to be improved and accelerated.

The Yombunjin Hotel before demolition and reconstruction began in late 2018, taken during Kim’s visit to the site in July last year | Photo: KCNA

Satellite imagery provided by Google Earth shows large parts of the three-section Yombunjin Hotel were deconstructed between August and October last year, with two small complexes of temporary structures built in the vicinity in the same period.

A group of 20 new blue-roofed villas built behind the hotel starting in late 2017 were also razed between September and October, though no new construction on the grounds was apparent by imagery from March 16 this year.

The hotel, however, has received a significant redesign, having been reconstructed in the first months of 2019 with new perpendicular wings added to both sides.

A timelapse of progress at the Yombunjin Hotel between June 2017 and March 2019 | Click to enlarge | Photo: Google Earth, annotated by NK Pro

But as the building still appears in its bare concrete-structure form, and with no landscaping or other finishing details yet completed in the imagery, much work will have to be done to meet Kim Jong Un’s reported deadline of October 10, 2019.

As for the Onpho Holiday Camp, satellite imagery shows that work has picked up on this project since last August as well.

Temporary structures and new construction began there between August and October last year, and as of March 2019, the new project appears well underway.

During his July 2018 inspection of the site, Kim reportedly “pointed out its very bad condition, saying bathtubs for hot spring therapy are dirty, gloomy and unsanitary for their poor management.”

A comparison of the state of the Onpho Holiday Camp between March 2019 and before construction began last August | Photo: Google Earth, annotated by NK Pro

He then called for the area to be transformed into “a peculiar resort which meets the convenience and growing cultural and emotional demands of the people at the best level,” and requested the building of “an all-round service center, therapy center with all catering establishments so that people can enjoy full rest and spring water therapy during their holiday.”

Kim Jong Un “said he would make sure that the People’s Army would excellently build it next year and present it to the people as a gift,” the report from Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) added.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: KCNA