Amid food shortage, North Koreans forced to donate ‘patriotic rice’

‘I don’t even have rice to eat today. What can I possibly offer as patriotic rice?’
By Jieun Kim for RFA Korean
2022.12.16
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Amid food shortage, North Koreans forced to donate ‘patriotic rice’ Farmers plant rice using rice seedling transplanter at Chongsan Cooperative Farm in Kangso District, Nampho, North Korea, May 9, 2022.
AP

Despite widespread food shortages in North Korea, the government is forcing its citizens to donate several kilograms of  “patriotic rice” for use by the military, party officials, scientists and people in need, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

Those who fail to donate their assigned quantity by year-end could be publicly criticized and sent to political reeducation, or worse, sent to labor camps, the sources said.

Privately, many people are grumbling about being coerced into donating at a time when many families are having trouble feeding themselves.

“They say, ‘I don’t even have rice to eat today. What can I possibly offer as patriotic rice?’” a resident of the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“They told residents to sacrifice from their conscience and patriotism,” the source said. “If I have true patriotism, will rice rain down from the sky?”

The order came from the Central Committee, which reminded the people that North Korea’s recent missile launches are an example of the party’s well-being and the increasing dignity of the country – but barely acknowledged the country’s food shortage.

“It praised North Korea’s national power and status, saying it had risen to epic highs, and it said to the people that our food problems must be solved through patriotism,” said the source. “The directive also highlighted cases where farmers and ordinary citizens donated more than their quota of patriotic rice.”

The country’s rice harvest declined this year due to colder temperatures and heavy cloud cover that reduced sunlight in July, which is prime rice growing season, South Korea’s Rural Development Administration said in its annual estimate of North Korea’s agricultural production. 

The agency estimated that North Korea’s overall crop production declined by 180,000 tons to 4.51 million tons.

Secret vendors

Rice is not available in the local market and private sales of grains are prohibited, seemingly creating a problem for those who don’t have extra to spare, but the source said that every neighborhood has secret vendors that sell it in small amounts.

Orders from the central government dictate how much each citizen must donate depending on their station in life. Most citizens will have to donate 5 kilograms (11 lbs), whereas farmers must donate between 10 and 15 kilograms. Students and the elderly must donate between 2 and 7 kilos.

The authorities are telling the people that donating even 1 gram of rice over the prescribed amount of is patriotic, according to the source.

“The authorities threatened the farmers saying [they] could be subject to systematic ideological criticism and punishment at disciplinary labor centers… for at least six months, but no more than a year,” said the source.

Farm workers have until Dec. 30 to complete their donations, the source said.

"Patriotism has been enforced in the past. But this year, farming has not been good compared to the previous years,” the source said. “So, residents are nervous about food."

The central government circulated official documents to discuss the directive with the title, “Let us imitate the loyalty of the soldiers of the People’s Army and fulfill our civic duty by fulfilling our dedication of patriotic rice,” a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

The directive commanded farmers to give 1 kilogram more than the “recommended” donation.

Many farmers complained, saying “The rice storage container at home is empty, so how can we take responsibility for the rest of the country?” the second source said.

The explanatory document also praised soldiers who tightened their belts and donated from their own rations, but the citizens saw that message as obvious propaganda, according to the second source.

“In response, the people were critical of the authorities for launching so many missiles recently, even at a time when food shortages are so bad they cannot properly feed the army,” the second source said. 

Secretly, residents are even critical of their leader Kim Jong Un, who shortly after succeeding his late father 11 years ago promised that they would be able to eat well, and has repeatedly promised this during his tenure, the second source said.  

“They say that the promise made by the Highest Dignity has gone nowhere,” the second source said, using an honorific term to refer to Kim. “The food crisis has worsened because of the wrong policies of the authorities.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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