In an effort to protect the nation’s pine forests, the North Korean government is mobilizing middle and high school students to collect caterpillars by hand.
The pine moth (Dendrolimus Spectabilis) is one of the most destructive pests for pine trees in the region. In its larval stage it has a ravenous appetite for pine needles, especially right after it emerges from hibernation in early March.
During the winter break, the students have been forced to brave the bitter winter weather to collect the larvae before they start feeding en masse in the spring.
“From the end of January, groups of junior high and high school students, instead of being able to enjoy their winter break, are out catching caterpillars in the mountains,” said a source from South Pyongan province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on Monday.
“The authorities have instructed the people to prevent damage to the forest by controlling the caterpillar population before [they emerge from hibernation in] spring, so that’s why teenagers are forced to hunt for them,” the source said.
“Students are busy looking for caterpillars all day long in the cold, without any breaks to warm up,” said the source.
“They have to catch a full plastic bag of caterpillars per day, so they pack a lunch and spend hours and hours out there in the woods,” the source said, adding, “Students from poorer families can’t even afford to pack a lunch, to the point that some have even collapsed while looking for caterpillars.”
“Their schools and the authorities don’t even sympathize with them. Instead they make the students criticize themselves publicly if they don’t complete their missions,” the source said.
Another source, also from South Pyongan, said, “[North Korea’s ruling] Workers’ Party started a tree planting project years ago to create forests, but the caterpillars are ruining all the trees, especially in summer.”
“That’s why the Party committee has been saying that a great way to show patriotism and concern for the future of the state is by protecting the forest from pests and disease,” said the source.
“Usually people go after these caterpillars in August, but they’ve been told to do it in January this year,” the source said.
“The students will probably have to continue catching caterpillars after the lunar new year holiday is over, and parents are really not happy about that.”
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.