North Korea’s imports of urea-based fertilizers have recently declined, the Daily NK has learned. It comes as South Korea is experiencing urea shortages following a Chinese export ban.
North Korea is also struggling to import ammonia, as fertilizer factories risk shutting down production. If North Korea cannot increase fertilizer production to normal levels, the country’s food shortages could worsen next year.
Major fertilizer factories such as the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex sharply cut production due to shortages of imported raw materials like ammonia, according to a Daily NK source in southern Pyongan Province on Sunday. If the raw material issues cannot be resolved quickly, they will have to immediately suspend production.
Namhung Youth Chemical Complex is a leading North Korean petrochemical plant in Namhung area of Anju. It produces fibers, rubber and other petrochemicals, as well as urea and nitrogen fertilizers.
The Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, North Korea’s largest fertilizer factor, would face a similar situation. The plant produces urea fertilizer using ammonia.
Although North Korean fertilizer factories produce what is called “Juche fertilizer,” a urea-based fertilizer made from ammonia extracted from locally mined coal, it is expensive to produce and of poor quality. . As a result, North Korea mainly depends on imported fertilizers and fertilizer ingredients.
In particular, locals say the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex is in general distress, with an overload explosion in August that damaged the facility.
The current urea and ammonia shortages in North Korea are the result of Chinese export regulations. On October 15, China mandated customs inspections, or CIQs, of urea exports and in so doing, virtually banned their export.
China produces urea by extracting ammonia from coal. However, the country has decided to reduce coal production in accordance with environmentally friendly energy policies. Additionally, trade with Mongolia, Indonesia and Russia has suffered from COVID-19, exacerbating the country’s coal shortage.
The suspension of coal imports from Australia due to political tensions with Canberra has also had an impact on coal and power shortages in China.
Although urea can be produced from ammonia extracted from natural gas, not only is it expensive, but China also uses most of its natural gas to combat power shortages. As a result, China has experienced a drastic drop in urea production.
The chaos in the urea market triggered by China has also resulted in higher urea prices and fertilizer shortages in South Korea. Observers predict a number of problems as a result, including malfunctioning diesel vehicles and rising prices for agricultural products.
The South Korean government has responded to the urea supply urgency by diversifying its sources of urea imports, signing deals with foreign companies that can supply urea, and other measures.
However, North Korea is totally dependent on China for urea imports and cannot immediately diversify its sources. Thus, solving problems related to obtaining or producing fertilizer may prove difficult in the short term.
The source from South Pyongan Province said that the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex is more than 95% dependent on imported raw materials for fertilizers, and that if China suspends exports, northern fertilizer production is Korean would cease. He warned that if the situation persists, most farmers will have to farm next year without fertilizer.
He added that there were already fears that if production and imports of fertilizers fall sharply this year, the food situation could worsen next year.
Kwon Tae-jin, director of the North Korea’s Northeast Asia Research Center at the GS&J Institute and an expert on North Korean agriculture, said in a phone call with the Daily NK that North Korea imported more fertilizer than last year, but it was still less. more than half the amount for a normal year. “Naturally, fertilizer shortages directly lead to lower crops,” he said.
However, Kwon said North Korea will import half of its fertilizer and produce the other half domestically. He added that because China is unofficially providing a considerable amount of fertilizer for free, imports of fertilizer from China “would not realistically drop to zero significantly.”
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