As poor people in North Korea struggle to stay warm due to a firewood shortage and sky-rocketing fuel prices, they have started scrounging harvested cornfields for anything burnable to keep themselves warm in winter.
Earlier, North Korea used to import charcoal or heating fuel in winter. However, the closure of borders as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for poor people to cope with cold. As a result, they have started digging up the roots of harvested crops.
A resident of the northwestern North Korean province of North Pyongan said: "Every year in late autumn, the people are busy buying things to burn, like firewood and coal, to get through the winter. This year, the price of charcoal and firewood has risen astronomically, so people without money are unable to afford it. So, they are flocking to the corn fields to dig up the roots, dry them, and use them as firewood."
In January 2020, the concerned authorities in the Asia-Pacific nation closed the country's borders with neighboring China, apart from suspending all trade. The move badly affected the domestic supplies, and shot up prices of essentials. A North Korean official said: "Until a month ago, people, who have a personal connection with the farm, were competing with each other to get the corn cobs left over from threshing. Now, the cobs have run out, so people are out in the fields digging up the roots." The official further said: "When the public learned that corn roots can be used as a substitute for firewood, the farm began stopping ordinary people from coming to the fields to dig for roots. If you want to get into the fields now you must bribe the head of the farm's working group or the leader of the work team."
In the past, the Government of North Korea used to force citizens to clear the fields of roots, burn those roots as waste for preparing next year's crop. Now, those roots have become "a precious commodity", as winter arrives. It may be noted that North Korea is experiencing widespread food shortages. Still, people, especially in the eastern province of South Hamgyong, are using corn roots as burnable waste to keep themselves warm.
Another North Korean official stressed: "A few days ago, I got mobilized to work on road restoration about 5 miles away from my house, and I almost couldn't have my lunch that day. I asked a local resident to cook some rice with the food I brought for lunch, but I was rejected because there was no firewood." Hence, road restoration workers are carrying firewood with them to have lunch. Now, the lack of firewood to prepare food, and not the lack of food, has become a serious problem.
Coal prices doubled in North Korea in October, while the price of firewood increased two-threefold in the last one year.