Farmers in North Korea Lose Faith in Crop-Distribution Policy

2014-10-20
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Kim Jong Un (L) inspects vegetable greenhouses on a farm in South Pyongan province, June 21, 2013.
Kim Jong Un (L) inspects vegetable greenhouses on a farm in South Pyongan province, June 21, 2013.
AFP PHOTO/KCNA via KNS

North Korean farmers are outraged that the government of Kim Jong Un has failed to fulfill a pledge that allows them to keep nearly one-third of their grain harvest under a crop-distribution policy adopted two years ago.

The so-called “incentive-added” policy, which in theory allows farmers to keep 30 percent of their unit’s harvest and the government the remainder, was implemented as part of wider reforms to improve the overall economy and lives of people in the impoverished nation grappling with chronic food shortages.

“They promised that 70 percent of the food produced would be offered to North Korean authorities and 30 percent to farmers, but they haven’t kept the promise [to the farmers] so far,” a source in Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service.

Under the policy, farmers are also supposedly allowed to keep any surplus grain if they exceed their production targets.

“Incentive-added crop distribution was an empty promise that could not be kept,” a North Korean who works in the agricultural sector told RFA. “Executives in the agricultural sector obviously knew it.”

Authorities have been dividing up traditional collective farms and allocating their fields to smaller groups since the beginning of 2013, sources inside North Korea said earlier this year.

“Each collective farm distributed crops to farmers, but farmers have expressed their dissatisfaction because each farm did not carry [the policy] out as promised,” the Pyongyang source said.

Unrealistic plan

Kim Jong Un, who came to power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011, declared during his New Year’s address that agriculture was the main pending issue for improving the economy of the socialist country and people’s lives, the source said.

Based on this guideline, North Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture set a national production goal of 6 million tons of grain, the source said.

But the source who works in the agricultural sector said this plan was unrealistic because the incentive-added agricultural reform policy remained in place, had many shortcomings, and resulted in the exploitation of farmers.

“[Because] this incentive-added crop distribution promise was not kept even this year, it will cause trouble for farming because of the decline in farmers’ morale,” the source who works in the agricultural sector said. “Farmers are outraged at the authorities’ broken promise for incentive-added crop distribution each year.”

When the incentive-added crop-distribution system was not carried out as promised last year, the authorities became concerned and held the first national conference of sub-work team leaders in the agricultural sector on Feb. 6-7 in Pyongyang.

Sub-work teams consist of three to five people each working for large cooperative farms, where workers are permitted to sell surplus output at market after taking out the state’s portion, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

At the conference, Kim Jong Un emphasized his push for small-scale farms, alluding to the inefficiency of large collective farms, it said.

He issued a letter at the conference stating his intention to speed up the overhaul of the agricultural sector, one of the main elements of the economic reform measures announced in June 2012 to improve the overall economy, the report said.

Skeptical

When the incentive-added crop-distribution policy was first implemented, farmers were excited about it, but remained skeptical about its benefits because they distrusted the government and were concerned about farm managers siphoning off their share of the grain, sources had said earlier this year.   

But at the time, some farm workers also expressed hope that the policy could ease the country’s food shortages, the sources told RFA.

Sources had warned previously that a key stumbling block to the agricultural reforms would be the management structures of the collective farms which had not changed since the policy was implemented.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korea Service. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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