North Korea's poverty is so dire that farmers reportedly steal each other's faeces to fertilize crops

  • Poverty in North Korea and the failure of state food rationing has caused farmers to rely on human faeces to fertilize soil, with some even stealing faeces from other families.
  • Fertilizing crops with faeces leads to the spread of parasites, like the ones found in the North Korean soldier who defected last month.
  • Citizens of North Korea now rely on black markets, not the state, to provide goods.

The harrowing conditions of poverty in North Korea have again come to light in the dismal story of the 25 year-old defector who crossed the border into South Korea under a hale of gunfire from his own troops.

South Korean authorities took the soldier, named Oh, to receive care in a hospital where the surgeon saw something he had never seen before – a 10.6 inch parasite living in Oh’s intestine.

While food availability and conditions are known to be rough in North Korea, the parasite hints at a ghastly practice used to feed ordinary citizens at risk of starvation while Kim Jong Un allocates most resources to nuclear and missile development.

In 2014, Kim directed North Koreans to add human and livestock excrement to fertilisers to improve crop turnout, but as livestock was scarce, the burden fell on people to use their own faeces.

Lee Min-bok, a North Korean agriculture expert who defected to South Korea in 1995, said that despite the inherent risk of spreading worms and parasites, within the propaganda-ridden state, the human excrement had come to be known as “best fertiliser in North Korea,” according to Reuters.

“Vegetables grown in it are considered more delicious than others,” Lee said.

“When a family cannot produce enough, they must buy cattle or horse manure from ranches, but those that cannot afford are known to steal human faeces from other households,” Nikkei Asian Review reports.

North KoreaWong Maye-E (Associated Press)In this Friday, July 21, 2017, photo, a man is seen through water on glass as he walks with his bull and cart in the rain in Hamhung, North Korea.

There is a strong link between the use of human faeces in fertiliser and parasites.

Oh, the parasite-ridden defector, wasn’t even among North Korea’s poorest. A member of South Korea’s parliamentary committee on national defence told the Korea Herald that Oh’s father was “a North Korean military police official with a rank equivalent to a South Korean lieutenant colonel.:

As North Korea’s ability to ration and provide food to citizens crumbles, capitalist free markets have sprung up across the country.

But unlike the state-sponsored food provisions, Kim has little control over the black markets. The case of Oh and his shocking parasites suggests that ordinary North Koreans are starving, unwell, and potentially looking to someone other than Kim for their security.

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