Read about a visit to a huge construction bordering the Yellow Sea and a model cooperative farm. This kind of trip is rarely taken in other countries, but in North Korea it is on most itineraries.
Unless you have a particular interest in engineering achievements or cooperative farms, this trip may sound like a boring excursion. Nonetheless it was interesting, not least because it illustrates how the North Koreans want us to get a better understanding of their great achievements – in spite of foreign hostility and embargoes.
You will find several photos further down this page and also a map of my travels in North Korea. The purple line on the map shows the route to Nampo (Nampho) and the West Sea Barrage. This is a drive of about 75 km, one way. The visit took about half a day, and is included on most itineraries in the DPRK – with the possible exception of Chinese tour groups. This was the only excursion I made from Pyongyang without seeing any Chinese.
The road from Pyongyang to Nampo is called the Youth Hero Motorway. To me it looked and felt like the best maintained of the nation’s motorways. At least, there were several stretches of recently laid asphalt pavement. It is also the widest, with five lanes in each direction. And almost no traffic.
The West Sea Barrage
The purpose of this trip was to show a Western visitor what the combined effort of engineers, soldiers, workers and political leadership is able to achieve. The National Geographic TV series about megastructures may well come here and produce a program from the huge steel and concrete dam.
It was built in 1981-1986. The Taedong River empties in the Yellow Sea in the Nampo area, and provides a basic prerequisite for farming. However, the tidal floods from the Yellow Sea led to constant intrusion of sea water on cultured land. The dam was meant to solve the problem with the fresh water supply, to enlarge the size of arable land in the region, and to produce electricity. From what I was told, they have succeeded.
We drove on top of the seven kilometre long dam, and made a stop on an island. On top of the island there is a museum. It has a large scale model of the complex, and there is a video showing the heroic construction. The rooftop observation deck provides a splendid panoramic view of the entire area. 36 sluices and three lock chambers make up the last kilometre of the eight kilometre wide barrier. There is a railway line running parallel to the road on top of the barrier. However, the tracks did not seem to have been maintained in a while. The West Sea Barrage is without doubt a remarkable construction and achievement.
“Modernatization which our Party demands is that which relies on our own forces and our own technology.” (Kim Jong Un Aphorisms vol. 1)
Nampo town did not leave any lasting impressions, in fact we did not even stop. It lies on the northern bank of the Taedong River estuary, and developed after WWII as a fishing port and centre of the North Korean shipbuilding industry. The locks in the West Sea barrage allow ships up to 50,000 tons to enter and leave.
Nampo is the fourth largest town in North Korea.
A visit to a model cooperative farm
The first impression
Halfway back to Pyongyang we made a stop at a farm. Like everything else in the DPRK, it was not a spontaneous stop. This particular farm had been visited several times by the great leaders, and there was even a large mosaic showing Kim Il Sung offering guidance to the farmers on how to cultivate the land.
We stopped in front of a large reception hall or community building, and were met by a representative of the cooperative. She guided us around the facility. I asked where the farm was. It is right here, she told me. Due to my Western ignorance, I had never been to a cooperative farm before, I did not realise that a cooperative farm is more like a village. It consists of one hundred families employed on the farm all their lives. By the way, everything in North Korea is owned by the state.
There are residential blocks, two-three storeys high, and there are schools for children of all ages. We also walked past a kindergarten. This particular cooperative farm is one of seven similar farms in the wide valley. They produce crops like fruits, maize and beans. There are large paddy fields as well, and rice is presumably the most important crop. In addition, the farmers maintain several greenhouses, one with glass walls and roof, the others covered with plastic. Strangely, there were very few people around.
“The agricultural front is an outpost in the battle for defending socialism and a major thrust of the effort to build our country into a socialist economic giant” (Kim Jong Un Aphorisms vol. 1)
The farms in the larger cooperative receive annual production targets from the state, and the farmers on this particular farm have over the years proved their excellence in comparison with the others. There is in other words some sort of competition involved in North Korean farm production. You deliver what is expected, and perhaps a little more. And then what?
I noticed they were even growing maize on small patches of soil in between the residential buildings. The guides told me that these patches were officially recognised as being outside the official arable land, and would be free for individuals to use. The produce would in turn be freely consumed in the households or even bartered on some kind of marketplace. I’m not a farmer, but it was even to me easy to see the difference in height of the maize plants on this “free” patch compared to the official ones lining the paddy field a few metres away.
“While planting and tending even a single tree by oneself, one’s patriotic feeling and the determination to protect it develop” (Kim Jong Un Aphorisms vol. 1)
Images from this road trip
Click a thumbnail for a larger version and browse between them.
Read all North Korea entries.
This is the map of my travels in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or simply North Korea. The purple line on the map shows the route to Nampo (Nampho) and the West Sea Barrage. This is a drive of about 75 km, one way. We actually drove through the city, however, the map shows a different route.