North Korea to Hold Local Officials Responsible for Rainy Season Crop Losses This Year

A nationwide survey is underway to confiscate illegal farmland.
2021-07-16
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North Korea to Hold Local Officials Responsible for Rainy Season Crop Losses This Year In an Aug. 2020 file photo, members of the Central Committee of the ruling Korean Workers' Party were dispatched to the site of a typhoon in South Hwanghae province, North Korea.
Yonhap News

North Korea will punish government officials for failing to take proper measures to prevent flooding of agricultural land ahead of this year’s rainy season, sources in the country told RFA.

The move comes as a grain shortage looms, caused by severe flooding last summer that destroyed farms and decreased harvest yields.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in a recent report that North Korea would be short about 860,000 tons of food this year, about two months of normal demand.

“When the rainy season is over, the central government will inspect all the cooperative farms across the country to assess crop loss due to flood damage,” a resident of Songchon county, South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.

“In regions where crop loss exceeds 500 pyong [about 0.4 acres], they will consider the officials incompetent for hindering the resolution of the grain shortage and they will be dismissed from their position and expelled from the party,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

Local authorities are therefore threatening sand and soil plunderers to protect themselves. 

“As the rainy season begins, residents who are caught digging up sand around the river near farmland or scooping up soil near the riverbank are handed over to the Military Security Department for punishment in a labor camp,” the South Pyongan source said.

“The reason why local authorities are suddenly cracking down on collecting sand or soil around the rivers is to prevent flood damage during the rainy season in July and August,” added the source.

 Those found stealing soil “will be punished as ‘anti-party’ elements for consciously neglecting [government directives] that emphasize the importance of grain productivity,” the source said.

Another source, from nearby Eunsan county. told RFA that officials there received the same warning.

“Local party officials directly mobilized residents and students to build embankments around the river near farmland as the first order of business,” said the second source, who declined to be named.

Mobilizing the public to provide free labor for government projects is very common in cash-strapped North Korea.

“Now they are on the second round of building embankments, saying that they will reinforce the riverbanks that collapsed after recent rain showers,” said the second source.

“The local authorities are pestering the residents to prevent flood damage at all costs, because… they will be expelled from the party and punished severely if they lose farmland due to flooding,” the second source said.

North Korea’s agricultural output suffered greatly after last year’s rainy season, during which three consecutive typhoons slammed into the country.

In July and August 2020, the Korean peninsula endured its longest ever period of continuous rain.

Typhoon Bavi then slammed the already inundated peninsula on Aug.27, destroying many homes and public buildings, and making flooding of agricultural lands worse.

Typhoons Maysak and Haishen then rode the eastern coast of the peninsula from South Korea on Sept. 3 and 7 – both slamming Wonsan, a coastal city of 360,000 people in North Korea’s southeastern Kangwon province.

Prior to Maysak’s arrival, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered the nation to take the proper precautions to minimize the impact of the coming typhoons. 

RFA reported in late September that three officials in Wonsan lost their jobs over the destruction there. Their colleagues believed the three were scapegoated so that the central government could deflect criticism for not providing adequate resources to carry out Kim’s orders.

Illegal farming

To further maximize the harvest this year, North Korea will confiscate land from people who fail to register their plots as farmland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide survey of agricultural lands to stamp out the unauthorized agriculture.

“Each provincial party committee received Order 0017 of the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission titled ‘On the Proceeding of Land Re-survey’ on June 30,” a source from North Hamgyong province told RFA Wednesday.

“The provincial party and people’s committees have organized a land inspection team to survey all land owned and farmed by businesses, cooperative farms and individuals in the region,” the third source said.

The third source said the central government wanted to stop people and officials from taking food for themselves from farmland unregistered with the state.

“I understand that the authorities are conducting the land survey on a nationwide scale this time as a precedent to confiscating the unregistered land,” said the third source, who added that Order 0017 is linked to an initiative meant to eradicate corruption among officials.

“In the past, organizations and businesses often cleared land for farming in the name of building a side business base and improving the welfare of their workers, but there were no benefits for most workers and the crops were used to fill the stomachs of officials or to bribe higher organizations.”

Reported by Hyemin Son and Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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