North Korea Today No.118

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today
118th Edition April 2008

Nationwide Fertilizer Crisis for Upcoming Farming Season
All parts of North Korea are facing a lack of fertilizer for the upcoming farming season. Due to a serious scarcity of agricultural materials, such as fertilizers, plastic sheets, and seeds, local traders from other parts of the nation are continuously coming to Sinuiju. Even after running around the whole city, however, these traders could not obtain enough materials and expressed their frustration that they would miss this year’s farming. In an effort to control this fertilizer crisis, the Central Party has ordered to provide each province with subsidies for purchase of fertilizer. Yet, local officials appeared to be skeptical about the Central Party’s decision. An official said that “Even though the Central Party offers 70 percent of the total cost of necessary fertilizers, the actual money that local parties would receive only reaches at 30-40 percent of the total expense. It is because a part of the fund is often taken by officers in the process of disbursement. Due to such embezzlement, we wish that the Central Party would directly provide us with fertilizers rather than fund to purchase them. In fact, even fertilizers are expected to be snatched in the process of delivery as well. In that case, nevertheless, we still can have actual fertilizers. With such little money, only covering 30-40 percent of the total expense of fertilizers that we need, we’re never able to buy enough fertilizers for our local farmers. Thus, no matter whether the Central Party provides actual fertilizers or subsidies, it generates concerns.”

“The Best Way to Help Us Is To Provide Food and Fertilizer”
“What North Korea needs most now is fertilizer, plastic sheets, and rice seeds. The best way to help us, therefore, is to provide food and fertilizer,” people uniformly answered, regardless of their social status, to the question what their urgent needs are. Baek Guang-hyun, a 48-year old resident of Chungjin City, said that “The women’s collective protest against the market age restrictions policy in March can be seen as a people’s strong message that they would not helplessly die of hunger without taking action, unlike how they were during the Arduous March.” What is essential to the survival of North Koreans is an aid of fertilizer and plastic sheets. He continued to say, “During this difficult time, the women’s market protest was a natural incident that the food shortages caused. Reportedly, 60,000 households in Chungjin City are running out of food. In other words, approximately 200,000 people are suffering from hunger, assuming 3-4 members per household. When food rations for workers stop and women’s market activities are banned, the families of those people could not but die of hunger.” Go Sung-guk, a 53-year old resident of Hamheung, also mentioned that “What we need most is food and fertilizer. We must have fertilizer and plastic sheets until the end of March. Otherwise, we cannot do farming this year. If we cannot do farming, something horrible will happen.”

Pyongyang to Stop Public Distribution till October
As of late March, the public distribution situation is very difficult, even in Pyongyang. Pyongyang recently decided to stop all public distribution from April till October. Some officials in Pyongyang are saying that such long stoppage of public distribution of food has never happened, even during the Arduous March. But the Pyongyang residents have some money with which they can buy foodstuffs in markets in Pyongsung, Sariwon, and Nampo, among others. And they also have some spare food, which means that no one is starving as of now. However, they are still nervous since their spare food levels are low and the food prices are skyrocketing. While the roads going to other cities are in bad condition, Pyongyang residents’ food situation will be in dire straits if the food supplies run low in other regional markets.

No Non-Public Distribution Management (NPDM) Allowed This Year
Last year, the authorities disallowed the non-public distribution management practice. This had which allowed collective farms to rent out unused or less productive land to workers in other industries that were shut down due to various reasons and therefore couldn’t pay their workers. These non-farm workers would then farm the land and survive on the harvests. This practice is called the 6-month farming practice because the land is rented out in 6 month increments. This year, the authorities continued the prohibition against this practice.

Kim Myung-duk (58) said, “The workers are saying that the government’s prohibition against NPM is going to make life really difficult for us. It’s hard enough to survive this year but what are we going to do next year with NPM?” One managers of a factory also agreed: “If we can’t do the NPM this year again, then I can’t, in good conscience, ask the workers to come to work. I would quit first. If we keep on going this way, I will be beaten to death by the workers.” Oh Sang-suk (54), who is the leader of a group of factory workers that make everyday essentials, supposedly yelled at his factory manager, “They shouldn’t ask us to report to work if they don’t allow NPM. I will be the first one to not come to work. Don’t even think about asking my team to come to work.” Oh was called into the police station and was punished severely for three days but still insists that he hasn’t changed his mind.

Despair Spreading Over Lack of Food
People all over the nation are feeling anxious because of the overall lack of food. Some even have shadows of palpable despair on their faces. One worker in an export company similarly despaired, “During the Arduous March, we learned survival mechanisms. Usually, we would cope through the 6-month farming practice, farming on private plots, and trading in the markets. Our government stopped us from doing these one by one. At the end of 2005, they stopped us from doing the 6-month farming and using private plots because they said the public distribution was starting back up. Last year, they began to crack down on market activities. Also, the heaven was not on our side. We had huge floods two years in a row. There is no way anyone has huge stores of food because we haven’t had good harvest for two consecutive years. So, how are we supposed to live without food? What use is skills and willpower if we don’t have food?”

An official in Pyongyang echoed similar sentiments, saying, “No matter how much they exhort us to come up with plans to get over this crisis in food, how can we come up with food that just isn’t there? China is limiting food exports and we don’t have our own stores of food left. The Cabinet might have all the meetings they want but what could they do? The food situation was improving from 2002-2004 in the aftermath of the Arduous March, but it started going downhill again in 2005 when talks of restarting the public distribution system came up, which was a huge mistake. Our country is in serious trouble right now for sure, with all the flood damages, lack of fertilizer, ill-conceived seizures of private plots, and stoppage of non-public distribution management policy.” He went on to say that there are officials who agree with him but are too afraid to speak up. “I would try to muster up courage to speak if there is any chance of change, but the situation inside is probably far worse than what they suspect from the outside,” he continued. There are rumors that famine victims will start to appear in major cities like Pyongyang, Hamheung, Chungjin, and other major cities by April. By May, we could see a mass famine.

Going Round and Round In Search of Rice
During the nationwide food crisis, North Hamgyung Province is relatively in a good condition according to rice merchants. It is because North Hamgyung Province was the only place that avoided last year’s floods. Recently, Namkang Company in Chungjin imported 300 MT of rice with a deferred payment through Hoeryung Customs. The original trade price per ton was $360 but Namkang purchased the rice for $430 per ton due to its deferred payment plan. As the rice was delivered to Chungjin, local traders from other parts of the country were heading to Chungjin.

Meanwhile, Chungjin traders are actually leaving for Sinuiju in order to get rice because Chungjin is running short of the rice due to a large outflow of the rice to other cities. The reason why Chungjin traders are coming to Sinuiju is that they are expecting to get some rice produced from farms near Sinuiju or food smuggled from China. Sinuiju, however, has been under extensive Anti-socialist Conscience investigations. Likewise, traders from all different parts of the nation are continuously moving around in search of rice. In the meantime, these rice traders are expecting that the rice price will go up soon to 2,000 won per kg.

Sinuiju Is In a Great Stir Due To Investigations
As Sinuiju is facing a series of the Central Party’s investigations, the city’s overall atmosphere is getting more and tenser. Besides the already ongoing investigation group for anti-socialist activities, 200 additional investigators of the Central Party are coming to Sinuiju in the name of Anti-socialist Conscience Investigation. The investigation group is currently scrutinizing foreign trade organizations’’ account books of 2006 and 2007. The Central Party’s Anti-socialist Conscience Investigation patrol will be inspecting all kinds of anti-socialist activities in Sinuiju for next 100 days. Everyone in the city, from officials of the municipal party and local government to law enforcement officers and local traders, is extremely nervous about this upcoming inspection. In addition, investigators are checking even local residents’ packs and bags. As a result, all the people, from top to bottom, in Sinuiju are under a great tension.

Local Traders Watching Sinuiju with Breathless Attention
All local traders’ eyes are on Sinuiju. It is because a key export-import trade route is Gyodu Customs (National Border Customs) in Sinuiju, according to Kim Myung-guk, a 48-year old local trader. He said that “Who would dare to take a risk during this intense investigation? Local traders like us can’t do our jobs with any semblance of stability. Not to mention smuggling, if this trade route is blocked, it is obvious that prices will soar. What is worse, the inspections will last 100 days. If we cannot trade for that long, we will completely run out of all the products.” Lastly, he also mentioned that a sharp price rise in rice is expected due to the upcoming the Central Party’s Anti-socialist Conscience Investigation patrol.

Chungjin City Discusses “How to Accomplish Market Management Policy”
Last March 18th Chungjin city held a Soonam district Party’s meeting to discuss about “how to manage the market to accomplish the central policy. However, the discussion flowed straight along the lines of the party policy, merely repeating that the District Party should implement the order from the top to assign the women in the factories, who should not be allowed to trade in market because of the age requirement. Other discussions centered on how to prevent the recurrence of previous resistance to the policy by strengthening the control and censorship of proper law and order institutions. The conclusion of the discussion was to implement the Party’s order unconditionally without fail in the event of similar resistance. The following day, on March 19th, the Party reiterated the policy of “facilitating ways for women below the trade minimum age to work in factories” during Saturday study group meeting of party secretaries and managers of factories and state enterprises.

Breeding Rabbits and Cultivating Mushrooms for the 60th Anniversary of the Party Foundation
As per Chairman Kim Jong-Il’s February 3rd directive, the Ministry of Agriculture encouraged factories, enterprises, units to raise rabbits and cultivate mushrooms. Responding to the encouragement, all laborers in factories, enterprise units, and the kindergarten-students have to breed rabbits and cultivate mushroom until the 60th anniversary day of Korea Worker’s Party. People’s Assemblies in regional provinces, cities, and countries reconstituted their agriculture department in order to execute the assignment. Agriculture departments sent official directives about raising rabbits and cultivating mushrooms to factory and enterprise units and are organizing operation teams consisting of model workers.

There are concerns about both programs because they were implemented annually but failed. An officer said “There is not much clover to feed rabbits. A key to the success is to solve the feeding problem. Many rabbits died from diarrhea caused by indiscreet feeding of all kinds of grass. Mushroom cultivating program management is also in the same situation. In farming mushroom, keeping an aseptic condition and appropriate temperature and humidity is very important after receiving mushroom spores from mushroom research center. Even though it looks simple, it needs special skills to cultivate them.” He worried that these programs, which need special skills, are being implemented by the general public without any training.

Managers Will Be Fired If They Don’t Raise Rabbits
Last March 15th, there was a meeting of all members in the Giljoo County Party in North Hamgyung Province. In the ‘fight for ideology’ atmosphere, general managers of factories and Party secretaries had a meeting about assigned economic tasks in industry sector. Administrative workers raised their voice that “good management will guarantee the minimum quality of life and we should keep the initial plan to the very end.” The main topic of the meeting was the plan about 60th anniversary of the founding of the Party. They stressed that “all factories should build small mushroom cultivating spaces and rabbit cages and breed one rabbit per three labors and distribute the rabbits to their laborers by October 10th, which is the 60th anniversary of the Party’s founding. They announced that mangers that do not accept or execute the plan will be fired for lack of ability. The meeting ended with the final remark that “Let us farm workers and laborers come together to have a great farming season this year.” Meanwhile, the factory managers who did not meet the target of the farmyard manure plan must work for additional 15days as a penalty in service to the farm support campaign.

Chicken Droppings are Still Valuable Substitute Fertilizer
Every district has decided to send at least one employee of the County Party and the management committee to every small agricultural management unit to collect substitute fertilizer. They dispatched workers to rural sides of North Pyongan Province to visit houses raising chicken in Sinuiju and small cities and buy an oxcart-load of droppings for 20,000 or 25,000 as substitute manure. In Pyongyang even apartment residents also raise chicken and sell eggs and manure to help their livelihood. Every year, chicken droppings are used as very useful substitute fertilizer; as such they are always in short supply.

Motivating Competition by Ranking Human Excrement As fertilizer
To secure fertilizer, farms of each county and division of North Hamgyung Province are using all kinds of possible ways to create incentives. The management committee of Sesun division’s cooperative farm of Onsung County uses a competition system to motivate oxcart drivers to collect human excrement and gives prizes to the drivers who bring in the human feces that are best suited to be used as fertilizer, ranking them from 1 to 10. The management committee of the Wangjaesan cooperative farm of Onsung County has leaders of farming units bring a bucket of human faces and urine every morning, and gives underwear as prizes to those who place from first through third and socks to those whose daily human excrement bucket ranks from fourth through seventh.

Thief Who Has Stolen 138 Bikes Arrested
Last March 12th, a thief who had stolen 138 bikes was arrested in Chungjin. The police officers of Soonam District in Chungjin City arrested a local man, Mr. Kim, on the spot when he was caught stealing a bike around the market. Because the entire number of bikes that he had stolen was 138, even the investigating officer was shocked. The culprit confessed that he stole bikes around markets, schools, or resident areas and sold them cheaply in suburb areas for 2 years since February 2006. He stated that when he did not have anything to eat at his house on a holiday in February 2006, he saw a bike owned by a guest of his neighbor and stole it. Afterwards, he continued stealing bikes. So far, the police officers identified 37 bikes that the culprit sold in the neighboring rural areas.

Adult Movie CD Circulation Supported By South Korea Intelligence Service
Recently in Pyongyang, Mr. Park was arrested on the charge of making and distributing illegal copies of South Korean adult movies in Hyesan city in Ryanggang Province. He confessed that he was assigned by the South Korea National Intelligence Service, which he connected through a North Korean exile, to distribute South Korean movies in North Korea. Adult CDs are traded at a high price of about 50 dollars per CD, but there is no stock because of the high demand by Pyongyang officials. Until his arrest, Mr. Park received South Korean movie at the border area, had his college buddy produce illegal copies, and sold them though merchants in Pyongyang. So far about sixty CDs have been recovered.

North Korean Wives in China Cannot Come Back Home
Recently North Korean women in China cannot come back to their home country even if they want to because of the March 1st declaration that illegal border crossers will be dealt with harshly when caught. A man in forties in Musan recently got a message from his wife in China telling him that she will come back home. He cried with joy after hearing that she saved enough money to send their children to school and start them off with good marriages, a result of hard work during the difficult 7 years of being separated from her family. However, the joy did not last long. The husband cannot help but send a message to his wife not to come back, who remains ignorant of the recent declaration. He felt heartbroken when he had to inform her of the miserable news that she would be arrested and sent to a Re-education center if she came back. He thought about suicide more than12 times a day, starving and caring for their children without his wife. He yearns for a reunited happy family life with his wife as soon as possible. However, he thinks that it is best for his wife to live abroad rather than be sent to a Re-education center, from which there is no guarantee she would return alive. As he spoke, he wiped tears with his rough hands.

News of Incidents and Accidents
On March 18th, a ship belonging to Riwon County’s Fisheries Enterprise of South Hamgyung Province sank while at sea. Unexpected wind and waves overtook the ship so suddenly that nothing could be done. Of 12 crews, two were rescued and the others are presumed drowned since even their bodies couldn’t be found.

[Opinion] Worried About the Second Arduous March
The food situation in North Korea is getting perilously close to extreme danger. The danger of an onset of famine is being felt in many regions. The rise in corn prices for those people who can only afford corn is a very serious danger signal. Corn prices have never hit 900 won before. Considering that we are just beginning the barley hump, it’s worrisome how much more the prices will rise.

At the same time, the inter-Korea relationship is worsening. North Korea is ratcheting up tensions in Kaesong Industrial Complex and West Sea; when combined with South Korea’s stringent tone in response, the inter-Korea relationship seems to be sliding back to the enemy-state relationship of old. NK’s position is that they will deal with any amount of economic damages and loss of human life before they ask outside for help. SK’s position is that they will not help unless NK asks for help.

Although the positions of both governments have their internal reasoning, one can’t help notice how similar this situation is to that of 10 years ago. Back then, more than 3 million perished without a war. Although the danger lurks of another tragedy, the governments of North and South Korea are only engaged in a tug of war of inflexible positions. Both governments should not repeat the foolishness of 10 years ago. Once the window of opportunity to intervene is lost, people will start dying in droves and there will be nothing that can be done to arrest the tragedy. North and South Korea must work together to come up with a plan to save the unnecessary deaths of the North Korean people.

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