GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 135

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


North Korea Today 135th Edition May 2008

“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”

Continuing Deaths from Starvation in Sinpo County
Party General Meeting Unable to Create a Solution to the Food Problem
Forced Labor on Farms in Gahngsuh County
Mountain Villagers Live Off Private Farming
Farmers Expect “A Severely Bad Harvest This Year Again.”
Expectation about Bad Harvest, “Starving Farmers Are the Core Problem”
Agricultural Policy Should Be Changed to Solve Farming Problems
Relatively Prosperous Sinuiju Is Suffering from a Slump
Police Officer Who Had Harassed Residents for Inspections Attacked by a Soldier
Pyongyang Cut Down the Population: "People Who Do Not Own Houses are Leaving the Capital"


Continuing Deaths from Starvation in Sinpo County
In Sinpo, South Hamkyong Province, following Sinpo nursing home, deaths from starvation in this region keeps increasing. Sinpo Fisheries Enterprise (수산사업소), which was once one of the largest deep sea fishery enterprises, is now in financial distress. Although conditions are not as poor as in agricultural areas, workers at the Enterprise are not eating well and the number of people living off one bowl of grass porridge per day has increased. The first ones to suffer from the increasing malnutrition were the elderly and young children. In Sinpo town, Mr. Choi’s elderly mother recently died of malnutrition. News of deaths in nearby houses has made people nervous.

Party General Meeting Unable to Create a Solution to the Food Problem
On May 21st, the Party held a meeting about food situation. The consensus during the meeting was that there was no way to solve the food problem at that time. The participants emphasized that until the upcoming harvest season, they would use as many emergency provisions as possible to feed our people. However, stock provisions are almost running out and unless they can begin food imports or receive food support from abroad, the current food situation is likely to persist.

Forced Labor on Farms in Gahngsuh County
Despite the busy rice-planting season in the Gahngsuh County of Nampo City in the Southern Pyongan Province, little progress has been made with farming because many farmers remained in their homes. Since efforts to persuade greater worker participation were unsuccessful, authorities instituted more drastic measures. On May 25, 2008, the Gahngsuh County Party ordered that, “all the police stations, along with a foreman of each working unit, should visit each house to drive farmers out to farms.” Since the order, police officers have forcefully sent every farmer to the fields, regardless of whether they are ill or living off wild greens.

Mountain Villagers Live Off Private Farming
Along the west coast regions, including Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces, the number of people who have died from starvation has been increasing due to a lack of food and even grass soup. Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces were also the most severely flood damaged areas last year. Mountain villagers, who suffered less from the flood than those in the west coast regions, have been able to make a living from private farming. Specifically, more people along the border between North Korea and China are eating corn-rice meal (옥수수밥) than those of any other region. Many residents who do private farming believe they should keep a closer eye on their crops than last year because of the risk of hungry people digging up and even stealing unripe crops. The villagers said farming is difficult but guarding crops will be even more difficult this year because the food shortage situation will increase crop thefts.

Farmers Expect “A Severely Bad Harvest This Year Again.”
Middle-aged farmers predict that this year’s harvest will be extremely poor.
People who have farmed all of their lives say, “For good farming, there needs to be high-quality seeds capable of holding moisture and fine-texture, fertile soil, chemical fertilizers, and appropriate weather condition.” Kim Han-suk, age 58, who has been a farmer for the past 35 years, said “there has been almost no improvement in highbred seeds for several years. As food ran out, people began to eat the seeds, resulting in many farms being left with only a small amount of seeds. People feel especially panicked after being told to farm without any chemical fertilizers.” The reaction from farmers indicates that one of the biggest problems in this year’s farming is a shortage of fertilizers.

Lim Hwa-seung, aged 63, pointed out that the fertilizer shortage is the main reason for the low expectations for this year’s crop. He explained that there are no special measures to cope with the fertilizer shortage, “The government advertises that people should work out farming by our own effort while collecting 5kgs of manure per person. Many farmers, including me, constantly say that if that of manure is not used in the proper way it might bring harm to agricultural crops. Even though the manure might be appropriate for raising vegetables it is not suitable for grains cultivated on a large-scale. It is not easy to make manure with dung from livestock because raising poultry has also become difficult. The manure quality has declined because more than half of the manure is ordinary soil.”

Expectation about Bad Harvest, “Starving Farmers Are the Core Problem”
Oh Sung-keun, age 57, points out that starving farmers are the core problem. “Even if farmers eat enough there is no guarantee that farmers work well. Under the condition of starvation it is a natural result that farmers do not go to work. Regardless of whether farmers work well or not they should be farming. According to an old saying that ‘a bull with a full stomach makes dung,’ people cannot go to work with an empty stomach. However patriotic a person may be, he cannot endure long periods of work, even if he is able to carry on for one or two days.”

On the other hand, people who work for private farms usually go to work at 3am and come back home late at night seeing the stars. Usually, private farms are located in mountainous areas and are not commonly found in the villages on the open plains. So people who work at private farms in mountainous areas seem to stand up to hardships better than farmers in the breadbasket areas. It is quite natural that farmers do their best in private farming while they may be inattentive at public farms. Oh Sung-keun concludes that even though fertile soils and hybrid seeds are beneficial for farming, they will not be sufficient in the future if harvests are not distributed to individuals.

Agricultural Policy Should Be Changed to Solve Farming Problems
Managerial level officials have similar opinions on agricultural issues. Park, the chair of the Collective Farm Management Committee, said "We mobilize workers, students, and even soldiers for farming every year but have failed to motivate enough people, including farm workers. There should be benefits to the hard work of the people involved in farming. Yet there are no such incentives for these people and thus the total agricultural production goes down every year. The government's forceful mobilization policy amounts to nothing more than stopgap measures; from a long-term perspective, the current system will never bring the desired outcome." More people have been recognized as inefficient because of the current policy.


In the case of South Hwanghae Province, its past average grain output could be described as follows: In terms of sweet corn production, one Jungbo (1 Jungbo is 2.45acres and 3,000 Pyung) produced 6-7 MT while it harvested 5 MT of rice. Due to gradual acidification of farmlands and the lack of fertilizers, the total production of one Jungbo dropped down to 2-3 MT. If the production hit more than 3 MT, it was considered to be the maximum. Park mentioned that nobody thinks that last year's flood is the only factor that led to the decrease in agricultural production. He went on to say that "We have maintained the farming policy introduced in the 1960s and there have been little changes. The current policy has upsides as well as downsides. More and more people are hoping that authorities will find solutions to existing problems and come up with a more effective policy that can benefit both the country and the people." Park hopes that these issues can be discussed more freely and openly in the society. "Finding fundamental solutions to agricultural problems will help maintain ‘Our Way of Socialism,’" Park added.

Relatively Prosperous Sinuiju Is Suffering from a Slump
Overall, the living condition of residents in Sinuiju is considered to be better than that of other parts of the country. These conditions do not mean that Sinuiju is a better place to live; rather, it is a better place to trade. The trading environment is the result of Sinuiju’s location on the border with China as well as a lack of state provisions restricting residents from participating in market activities. It would not be an exaggeration to say that 80 percent of the residents of Sinuiju are engaged in market activities. Regardless of whether they are involved in wholesale or piecemeal jobs in the markets, the main source of income is from the markets. Except for a few wealthy households, usually high-ranking officials, most women have sustained their standard of living through market activities.

Another factor that makes Sinuiju more advantageous for market activities than other parts of the nation is the existence of traders called Purigae (뿌리개) who provide goods for a deferred payment. Purigae are mostly Chinese-origin residents who bring items from Dandong. Sinuiju residents sell the goods received from those Purigae at local markets or sell them wholesale to local traders from other cities. Sometimes, they go to other cities, such as Wonsan, Pyongsung, and Sariwon, extending their wholesale networks.

This year, even residents of Sinuiju find it difficult to sustain their lives. Due to a series of the Central Party's investigations of Anti-Socialist Activities as well as the Defense Security Command's inspections of military-related trading companies, trading companies have been paralyzed with fear. The investigations have been a serious blow to trading companies, many of them were seized or suspended. Due to such tight control over the trading companies, the price of goods from Sinuiju has increased. In particular, as it becomes difficult to obtain industrial products, such as electronics, there are no fixed prices for these items. As a result, prices rose to whatever level the sellers announced. Koh Heung-sam, a 55-year old local trader of electronics, such as television sets and refrigerators, bemoaned the recent slump in business. "Doing business in markets is now becoming a total loss. I could not make any profits out of business, and is now becoming difficult even to pay back wholesalers. Even worse, customers have no interest in purchasing goods other than food due to the impact of North Pyongan province's recent food crisis. It's worse than any other time in the past to do business. Now, it is hard to make a living even through market activities." An increasing number of people in prosperous Sinuiju are suffering from depression. A series of investigations has only revealed a declining situation.

Police Officer Who Had Harassed Residents for Inspections Attacked by a Soldier
It often happens that police patrol officers of each city and county snatch things from residents during their inspections. Even when it comes to a perfectly legal activity, some police try to make it illegal by in order to take desired items away. On May 12th, police officers who were patrolling a neighborhood at night stopped a resident passing by and attempted to find false charges with him or her. The resident was on the way back from Wonsan where he or she had bought the goods for his/her market business, thus the officers found many expensive items in during their inspection. As they detained the resident in order to find an infraction, a soldier who witnessed the whole scene finally interrupted and got into a fight with the police officers. The two police officers were beaten badly by the soldier and they were eventually sent to the city hospital. Goo Jung-mi, a 38-year-old female resident who heard of the story said that "I knew it would happen one day. The police went too far. They've been harassing innocent people. I think they have become worse because of the recent food crisis. As the nationwide food shortages become more serious, even police officers are looking for anything to seize anything that catches their eye by any means necessary." A police officer also mentioned that "In the case of Hamheung and Heungnam City, it is difficult for the poor to have diluted grass-root soup even once a day. Approximately 40 percent of the households who were able to have corn-rice for three meals per day during difficult times in the past now find it difficult to have rice soup twice a day. As the overall food situation worsens, more officers abuse their authority to control residents."

Pyongyang Cut Down the Population: "People Who Do Not Own Houses are Leaving the Capital"
There are a number of people who stay with relatives, friends, or co-workers because they cannot afford a house in Pyongyang. As part of a recent census project, the municipal authorities of Pyongyang have recently made a decision to relocate people who do not own a house in Pyongyang to other parts of the country, except for those who have special reasons to stay. Pyongyang has maintained its policy of population reduction and curtailed the number of jobs in the city over the years due to the scarcity of houses, electricity, water, and heat. The people who are physically weak or are considered unable to fulfill their current jobs have been the first group to be relocated. When it comes to the time of year for reduction, the city's overall atmosphere becomes tense. Sometimes, people named on the list of reduction confront the secretary of the municipal party or managers of companies. Sometimes one of the spouses originally comes from a home outside of Pyongyang, but the entire couple is relocated. Anyone who has been involved in a felony is also included on the list of reductions. The criteria for the reduction decisions is the principle of "Pyongyang Citizens." anyone who is from the low part of the social status ladder or who has ever committed a crime is not eligible to be a citizen of Pyongyang. Pyongyang's policy of population reduction, however, is seen as a self-help policy to address shortages food rations and necessities.

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