North Korean Farmers Are Denied Surplus Harvest Again This Year

Production in northern provinces exceeds goals, but the state takes it all.

Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.

Despite increases this year in agricultural production, authorities in North Korea’s northern provinces are once again refusing to distribute promised surplus grain to area farmers, demanding also that potatoes harvested beyond state requirements be used to produce food starch, North Korean sources say.

Under a policy intended to spur production, 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 have not been made in many localities in recent years, though, sources say.

The potato crop this year in North Korea’s Yanggang province came on average to almost 30 tons per jungbo (an area covering about 10,000 square meters), one source in the province told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“This amount surpassed its production goal of 26 tons,” RFA’s source said. “But there were no additional benefits for the farmers.”

Instead, authorities are ordering farmers to use surplus potatoes to make “potato starch,” the source said, adding, “To make 1 kg of starch, 10 kg of potatoes must be used.”

“So the farmers are suffering great losses,” he said.

Increase in grain harvest

North Korea’s Jagang province meanwhile saw an estimated 20 percent increase in harvested grain this year, amounting to an additional one million tons of food produced, a source in the province said.

“Central authorities have ordered a daily distribution of 550 grams of food per person, regardless of the set goal,” the source said.

“And though authorities promised to return surplus grain to the farmers once that goal was reached, they didn’t meet that promise this year either,” he said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry has said that 4.8 million tons of food were produced last year in North Korea, with a yearly demand for food measured at 5.5 million tons.

And though rationing targets can still be met, North Korea’s food distribution has essentially collapsed, with North Korean residents trading locally for what they need, RFA’s sources said.

No significant changes in food prices were observed were observed this year in local markets, the sources added.

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Richard Finney.