North Korean Authorities Fail Again to Distribute Crops Promised to Farmers

2015-12-21
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Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.
AFP

North Korean authorities in some areas have failed again in spite of improved harvests this year to honor a pledge allowing farmers to keep a share of the crops that they produce, according to sources inside the reclusive, nuclear-armed state.

Under a policy intended to spur production in a land plagued by food shortages, farmers are allowed in theory to keep 30 percent of their work unit’s production, with the government taking the rest.  Farmers are also supposedly allowed to keep any surplus grain if they exceed their production targets.

Promised distributions were not made last year in many localities, though, a source in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang told RFA in an earlier report.

This year, grain production in North Hamgyong province surpassed state goals “by a wide margin,” a source in the northern province bordering China told RFA’s Korean Service.

“But the government [still] didn’t keep its promise to return 30 percent of the grain that was produced, let alone the surplus yield,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Complaints

In North Hamgyong’s Hoeryong city, farm families have now been issued an allotment of unthreshed corn for the coming year of from 400 to 600 grams per day, “which is far less than their promised quota,” the source said.

“Farmers have a lot of complaints at the moment,” he said.

“But they didn’t trust the government’s promise from the beginning, so their overall reaction has been that there isn’t too much to be disappointed about.”

In neighboring Yanggang province meanwhile, local authorities haven’t kept their promise to distribute surplus production of potatoes “although Yanggang this year had its best harvest since its people took up farming the crop,” another source said.

Yanggang’s production goal this year was set at 23 tons per hectare, the source said.

“But the actual yield was 35 tons per hectare on average, and the authorities should keep their promise to give farmers the right to dispose of any surplus that they produced under the policy,” he said.

Officials under pressure

Authorities’ failure to distribute promised shares may result not from central government policy but from decisions made at a local level, though, according to Andrei  Lankov, a North Korea expert and professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea.

“My understanding is that it is local officials in some localities—not everywhere-—who are breaking their promises,” Lankov said.

“Local officials are under pressure to make obligatory grain deliveries. Hence, cheating farmers is the best and safest way to make ends meet and avoid reprimands, or worse,” he said.

Writing for RFA in March, Lankov credited improved harvests in recent years to a farm policy reforms implemented since 2013 known as the "June 28 decisions." The measures are seen as paving the way for household-based agriculture and permit one or two neighboring families to register as a "small work team" and then keep 30 percent of the harvest they reap.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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