GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No.120

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng

North Korea Today
120th Edition February 2008

The 2nd Arduous March has, in effect, begun
Rice Prices Are Insane In Haeju
Corn No Longer Seen In Certain Markets in North Hamgyong Province
South Hamkyong Province Is Seeing an Increase of Households Who Survive On Grass Porridge
Farming Not Being Done Because Of Absentee Workforce in Kumchun County Farm in North Hwanghae Province
Even the Traditionally Most Prosperous Chaejong Farm Is Suffering From Food Crisis
“If Only We Could Get Farm Equipment and Support from Somewhere”
Food Prices Rise Caused by South Korean National Intelligence Agents’ Scheme
Food Shortages Cause Increasing Absences at Work in Younggwang County in Hamheung City
50% of the Households at the Walpa Farm in Onsung City are Short of Food
No Food Loans for People at Walpa Farm
The Increase of Corn-rice Processing Fees Exacerbates Food Shortages
Special Food Rations for War-bereaved Families
The Criticism Battle against President Lee Myung Bak Started
Due to Increased Cigarette Price, the Cigarette Factory Robbed
Damage by Pine Caterpillars Occurred on the Entire Forest of South Pyongan Province
Urgent Meeting to Protect Forest
Measures to Protect Country’s Environment
News of Incidents and Accidents
[Opinion] For How Long Are We Just Going To Watch?

The 2nd Arduous March has, in effect, begun
With the exception of Pyongyang, North and South Pyongan, North and South Hwanghae, North and South Hamgyong, Kangwon, and Jagang Provinces are, in effect, experiencing the 2nd Arduous March. Although there are no reports of outright famine, it will be difficult to stabilize the situation if nothing is done by the end of April. No matter where you go in North Korea, it’s filled with dire rumors of the Arduous March being reenacted soon.

Rice Prices Are Insane In Haeju
Since April 8th, food prices have been skyrocketing across North Korea. In major cities, such as Sinuiju, Pyongsung, Kangye, Wonsan, Sariwon, Pyongyang, and Hamheung, rice prices rose past 2,000 won per kg. Even in Sinuiju, where the food prices were relatively stable, rice prices rose past 2,100 won on April 9th eventually hitting 2,500 won on April 11th. Haeju, which is the heart of the grain basket, saw its rice price hit a record high of 2,750 won. This record high is due to rich rice merchants from Sariwon coming to Haeju to purchase all the rice stock. They are holding the rice and not releasing them suspecting that rice prices will raise to 3,000 won in the near future. Residents of Haeju are openly complaining about the outrageous cost of rice, exclaiming, “I don’t know what’s happening with the world.”

Food Prices Chart for the 2nd Week of April (NK Won per Kg)

Pyongyang

Hamheung

Haeju

Sariwon

Wonsan

Hoeryung

Rice

2,500

2,600-2,700

2,750

2,100

2,500

2,500

Maize

1,400-1,500

1,100-1,200

1,500-1,700

1,300

1,400-1,500

1,100


Corn No Longer Seen In Certain Markets in North Hamgyong Province
With the skyrocketing rice prices, the demand for corn has also risen, leading to the disappearance of corn from select markets in Onsung, Chungjin, Kyongsong, and other regions in North Hamkyung Province. This is because people buy up whatever corn comes on the market. Even if corn is seen on the markets, it’s usually one or two handfuls.

South Hamkyong Province Is Seeing an Increase of Households Who Survive On Grass Porridge
These days, “Let’s earn enough today to buy one kg of rice!” has become the people’s mantra. With the skyrocketing rice prices, more and more households in the rural regions are resorting to grass porridge for survival. In collective farms located in Jongpyong, Kowon, Shinpo Counties, food has completely run out and the farm workers are not reporting to work. The situation is not too different in the cities. The residents are coming out to the markets to shop for food and are turning away in shock at the prices. Considering the situation, it’s only obvious that there is an increase of people eating grass porridge. Should the rice prices stay above 2,500 won for more than a month, people are predicting that the death rate will eclipse the number that died during the Arduous March?

Farming Not Being Done Because Of Absentee Workforce in Kumchun County Farm in North Hwanghae Province
Managers of collective farms in North Hwanghae Province are telling Party officials that half of the farm workers are not reporting to work because they haven’t eaten. This is severely impacting their preparation for the upcoming farming season. The farms in this region, like other regions, did not distribute enough food to the workers last year because of bad harvests. This led to many households depending on grass porridge for food starting last fall. With the onset of winter, many households ran out of food. Only very few, select household of managers of farming operations, storage operation, and other units were able to eat rice, while the majority of farm workers had to live on grass porridge, or sell the wild mountain plant roots they harvested in the markets. Tasked with surviving every day, it’s understandable that the workers are not reporting to work. Though the Collective Farm Committee has asked the farm workers to report to work as per the orders of the Party, they are not listening. The workers say that they have to use whatever time they have to dig up more wild plant roots in order to feed their family. Children are also affected. They guard the house or go to markets with their parents rather than attend school. There is more than a 40% absentee rate in schools in Kumchon County.

Even the Traditionally Most Prosperous Chaejong Farm Is Suffering From Food Crisis
Chaejong Farm in Shingan-ri, Kumchon County, North Hwanghae Province has almost nothing to eat because of the failure of last year’s harvests. They acknowledge that this is the worst production in history. Farm workers are going out to the mountains and fields instead of reporting to work because they are looking for something to eat. The management is pleading with the workers to come in to work for at least one hour every day, arguing, “What will happen next year if we don’t farm this year?” But their pleas are falling on deaf ears. Workers respond that they can’t work when they don’t have the energy to even stand. Each day, they roam the fields to dig up plants and grass, saying that even poisonous plants are safe as long as they are picked before May 5th, the Dano Festival Day. On hearing this, one central party official responded, “I can’t believe this. Chaejong is an area where we send our best workers and give, on a priority basis, the latest equipment and fertilizers. How could people be starving at Chejong? I would have to see it with my own two eyes to believe it.”

“If Only We Could Get Farm Equipment and Support from Somewhere”
The export and import traders are coming under increased pressure because of requests for food and agricultural materials. The North Korean government has guaranteed fertilizer for Pyongyang and North and South Pyongan Provinces. But it has only provided partial subsidies to other regions for the cost of purchasing fertilizers. North Hamkyung Province has 15 cities and counties that all lack farm material. Among them, especially Kiljoo, Eunduk, Saebyul, and Yeonsa Counties are suffering from a lack of farming materials, especially in the remotest areas. They need .07mm or .12 mm plastic sheeting, fertilizers, and various pesticides. Each county needs about 200,000 sq. meter of plastic sheeting, 500 MT of fertilizers, and 50-100 MT of pesticides. In Kiljoo, Eunduk, Saebyul, and Yeonsa Counties, the authorities had gotten rid of the companies who traded these items, leaving an absence of people with the right skills to go out and trade for them. Everybody in these regions, especially the farmers, is praying that they will be able to get some aid from somewhere.

Food Prices Rise Caused by South Korean National Intelligence Agents’ Scheme
It has been propagated in parts of the national border areas that a recent rapid increase in food prices was caused by South Korean national intelligence agents’ scheme. This propaganda originated from the interpretation of North Korean authorities, such as the National Security Agency and police stations, on recent food crisis.

Meanwhile, the National Security Agency began to track down merchants who have contributed to the rise in food prices. A local trader was arrested on charges of such accusation on March 25th in Hamheung City in the South Hamgyong Province. The authorities who had suspected the massive outflow of foods from Chungjin and Hoeryung in North Hamgyong Province to Hamheung conducted investigations on traders who could affect the control of nationwide food prices, and found the aforementioned arrestee.

In addition to ongoing investigations on influential merchants, the authorities also have made enormous efforts to prevent the outflow of foods from one county to anther. In the case of Saebyul County in North Hamgyung Province, a checkpoint at the border of Eunduk County and Hoeryung City is controlling the flow of foods. Regardless of purposes, either for trade or for sending to relatives, it has been banned to take any foods, including rice, out of the county; once foods on the delivery are found, they are confiscated. These seized foods are sent to the local food administration unit or Kkotjebi welfare institutions.

Food Shortages Cause Increasing Absences at Work in Younggwang County in Hamheung City
Most workers and farmers in Youngkwang County in Hamheung City do not go to work due to the serious food shortage. Despite a series of emergency meetings to cope with the current food crisis, the County Party has not come up with any concrete counter plans. The recent food crisis therefore is causing an increase in the number of Kkotjebis (homeless children). Seemingly, there are more Kkotjebis than passengers who are actually waiting for trains at the Hamheung Station. Regardless of day or night, Hamheung Station is always packed with Kkotjebis and passengers. And dozens of cases of missing baggage are reported per day.

50% of the Households at the Walpa Farm in Onsung City are Short of Food
The Walpa collective farm in Onsung County, North Hamgyung Province estimated that approximately fifty per cent of the farm households are running short of food as of March 20th. Due to the lack of grains, most households feed themselves with roots of plants, the powered of cornhusk, and even the powered corncobs. The Management Committee of Walpa Farm is waiting for rice aid from the County Party. An officer said that “even though the County Party decides to provide us with a rice aid, it will only be possible when the state receives food from other countries. At this point, there is no hope that we will receive any food aid. Even the Grain Policy Division and the State are facing food shortages. Given the situation, it is hard to predict when we can receive the aid unless a miracle takes place.”

No Food Loans for People at Walpa Farm
Unlike other farms, Walpa farm finds it difficult to borrow food from wealthy individuals. Residents, who have side jobs in Onsung County or other cities, are doing relatively better in terms of food supplies. Thus, people in need are seeking food loans from those how are well-off. The payments for these loans, which have very high interest rates, are deferred until the coming fall. Yet, it seems to be very difficult to even borrow some food with such a payment plan. Unfortunately, it seems that no one is willing to lend food this year. Kim Keum-ok, a 38-year old female trader of secondhand goods in Chungjin City, firmly said that “I’ll never loan food to people at Walpa farm even though I would do so for people at other farms.” She continued to say, “it is always people from Walpa farm who come first to ask for a loan of foods with a deferred payment plan every March. It means they have had a bad crop year. In that case, they wouldn’t be able to make payments in the fall.” This is why no one would loan their reserved foods to people from Walpa farm. Therefore, there is no way to meet the needs of people at Walpa farm, despite their increasing outcry against a pandemic of hunger.

As the situation has not improved since April, the Walpa Cooperative Farm Management Committee is rushing to make up plans to relieve famine sufferers. As a first step, the Committee identified the number of households who cannot go to work due to hunger, and ordered management officers and community party officers to provide immediate food aid to some of these households. This was the first relief program for people who are in immediate danger of starvation. The Committee, however, is already facing difficulties in executing the program due to the increasing number of households in need. If this program stops operating, there will be no other program that can be launched.

As a result, students were eventually mobilized to find alternative foods. Due to the serious food shortage, only a few students are attending school. Instead of going to school, many young teenagers are running around with baskets and knives to find roots of plants and any wild edible plants, such as a wild rocambole and dandelions, to eat.

The Increase of Corn-rice Processing Fees Exacerbates Food Shortages
In addition to the serious chronic food shortages, the insufficiency in electricity has become an additional burden for the people. Recently, the power supply has been cut down to 2-3 hours per day. This limited supply of electric power has increased the production cost to make corn into corn-rice(옥수수쌀 or 짝쌀). In the case of Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province, the power supply has been very unstable; no one can predict when the electric power will be provided. Even when it is offered, it barely lasts 1-2 hours. As a result, people find it difficult to run their corn-rice making machines (they use electronic machines to process corn into corn-rice). The machines are surrounded by women who are anxiously waiting to use them. Currently, it is very common to wait at least two or three days in order to ground 10-20 kg of corn into corn-rice. When the electrical supply was relatively stable, people could get 1.2-1.3kg of noodles in exchange for 1kg of whole corn. With the lack of electricity, the amount of noodles to be exchanged per 1kg of whole corn gradually dropped from 900g to 700-750g.

Special Food Rations for War-bereaved Families
South Pyongan Province is also facing food shortages just like other provinces in the nation. As a result, there has been no food rations provided at any of the enterprises, factories, and special organizations of cities and counties since April 2008. However, food rations continue to be offered to war-bereaved families. These families can receive foods and subsidiary foods per person if they go to municipal food administration units. This special offer for war-bereaved families and relative is based on Chairman Kim Jong Il’s particular consideration of fallen soldiers.

The Criticism Battle against President Lee Myung Bak Started
There seems to be no end in sight for political tension between North and South Korea. Recently, daily criticisms from all levels of North Korean society are made against President Lee Myung Bak and his statements. The main criticism is summarized as, “South Korea has completely stopped trading with North Korea, in order to conquer North Korea by exploiting their very difficult situation. We have to be mindful of this truth and fight against antinationalist Lee Myung Bak.” Reactions to this criticism vary depending on whom you ask. A midlevel official confessed his concern, “When I reflect on the lessons I have learned, I have no idea of how we will survive if trading is stopped with South Korea.” Kim Yong Sun, age 52, who peddles used Japanese goods in Wonsan, Kangwon province asks, “Is it true that the South Korean government has barred all private and non-governmental trades with North Korea? Actually, whether trading has stopped or not does not concern me as I did not receive any direct aid.” A high-level official deplored, “Because of a few people’s dissatisfaction, many innocent people are dying. It’s like an innocent bystander who suffers a side blow in a fight. I know and accept the problems of North Korea; however I realize that South Korea has the same problems. The two countries are not so different. The two countries are not concerned with their people, but with their national identity. Because of this dishonorable fight, Korean people do not have any future. Who I can trust in the world? Does South Korea indifferently look on as a bystander while North Koreans are dying?”

Due to Increased Cigarette Price, the Cigarette Factory Robbed
Due to the rising costs of cigarettes, cigarettes have been stolen. Last April, storages of 3.26 cigarette factory of Shinsungchun, South Pyongan Province, were stolen over night. Completely unexpected, the amount of stolen good was too much to estimate. All of the unmanufactured and raw leaf tobacco was also stolen. Due to the significant amount that was stolen, police officers have devoted all their energy to investigate this case, but their efforts have not leaded to an arrest. The investigation has been very difficult for residents of Shinsungchun as officers are questioning and searching passer-bys on the street. If the officers find anything suspicious such as an insignificant amount of leaf tobacco, they are taken to the police station for questioning. The price of a pack of cigarettes used be 500-600won, but the current price of it doubled and is traded for 1,100 – 1,200 won.

Damage by Pine Caterpillars Occurred on the Entire Forest of South Pyongan Province
When spring returns, the forest department declared a state of emergency with harmful insects. This April, the entire forest in the North and South Pyongan Provinces were infested with pine caterpillars. This has caused significant damage. The forest department does not know what caused this infestation. They have just received and registered damages from North and South Pyongan Provinces. Forest of South Pyongan Province has already been devastated and trees of North Pyongan Province encountered significant damage. Pine caterpillars, which were first found in South Pyongan Province, spread to the North Pyongan Province and are now progressing to the Jagang Province. The forest departments of North and South Pyongan Provinces have mobilized government and enterprise workers and even military soldiers to catch the caterpillars. These departments have also mobilized students from elementary schools to universities, members of Street Neighborhood Unit, and any available people to catch the caterpillars.

Urgent Meeting to Protect Forest
The Central Party has received a report about the damage of pine caterpillars in North and South Pyongan Provinces and worried about deforestation. An official said, “It is true that our government is worrying about deforestation which can negatively affect this country’s economy. In deed, what the government is most significantly concerned with is the fact that it cannot manage the country’s natural properties and environments. It takes several years or decades to nurse and grow a young tree. During this period, if there are heavy rains, the forest can be seriously destroyed. In this case, how can homes be protected from the rains? The government held an urgent meeting about this issue, which led to an order given by the Party to mobilize all units to catch pine caterpillars. In addition, the Party decided to make promote the planting of young trees. As in previous years, they announced in the Party a tree planting project on Arbor Day of March 2nd and mobilized people.

Measures to Protect Country’s Environment
Continuously, measures to protect the country’s environment are being announced. Officials and managers of the country’s department of natural properties received training for the environmental measures from March 25-27th. According to the measures, all 230 cities and counties of North Korea will plant acacias on the roadside. The government will rank well units implement the project and will reward well-performed units with prizes, such as vehicles and auto parts. An anonymous official of the Central Party lamented, “In April, 2007, the People’s Assembly of Chungjin bought and planted nursery acacias with 3,500,000 won, an astronomical amount, which the Department of Protecting Country’s Environment provided. Go and see the trees at Chungjin. Few trees are alive. It’s a waste of money and labor, and mismanagement of the national environment. Without learning from last year’s mistakes, we are going to repeat them this year. Prevention of pine caterpillars is urgently needed, but we do not have the means to take care of this problem. Once the government gives the mandate to plant the acacias, people will follow the order. But so what?”

News of Incidents and Accidents
On April 3rd, a train running between Gumgol and Pyongyang was derailed between the Yangduk and Gurcha station. Four passenger coaches following the locomotion came off the track and it took 11 hours to put them back on the track. A passenger on the second coach was killed after falling from the exit door during the derailment.

[Opinion] For How Long Are We Just Going To Watch?
The price of grain is just exploding through the roof. Rice prices, especially, can be justifiable described as, “insane.” In Nampo, the price of rice rose to 2,000 Won on March 30th. Then it jumped to 2,500 won in less than two weeks. Now, it’s headed to 3,000 Won. That is, if you can find any. Because of the scarcity of supplies, it’s getting harder and harder to find any rice or corn to purchase. Even if the residents are able to find one or two sack-full’s of corn, the prices are so high, it only leads to further frustration and despair.

Hope for this year’s harvest is quickly crumbling because preparation for the farming season is not proceeding well. Farm workers are not tending the fields because they are too weak from hunger. The managers of the farm collectives are pleading with the workers to return to the fields but they are not responding. The workers have stressed that they are forced to dig up and eat grass roots in order to survive. This lack of production is not only restricted to this region, but is spreading across the entire nation. Alarmingly, it is beginning in the North and South Hwanghae Province, also known as the grain basket of North Korea, which has always been a reliable producer of grains in the past.

This emergency has come about because the South Korean government hasn’t sent the fertilizers that it had been sending annually. You don’t have to be a prophet to realize that the second and third waves of famine will hit like a tidal wave when you lose the opportunity to farm and harvest this year. It’s scary to imagine what the end-result might be. In the face of this burgeoning crisis, both the South Korean government and the international community, not to mention the North Korean government, are all silent.
Shouldn’t the North Korean government enact an appropriate emergency measure to appease the severity of this crisis, just as they did last year by releasing military food stockpiles? If they don’t have the stockpiles to release, the government should ask the international aid community for help. They must realize that preventing people from starving to death is the first and foremost step to national security.

The South Korean government should be consistent in the implementation of its humanitarian principles. Their main tenet is to give aid when it’s needed without preconditions. This is the time to live up to those principles. Why doesn’t it reach out first? Why does the government condition their actions to the nuclear and other political talks? MB’s government has stated that it will consider the plight of the North Korean people with compassion and are determining what form action hat compassion will take. The North Korean people are openly acknowledging that South Korea is their only hope for survival. They have high hopes for the new administration. South Korea must live up to their hopes by being more forthright in its engagement. It’s not too late. To prevent another famine and death toll, South Korea must immediately begin to give large amounts of food aid to North Korea.


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