GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 169

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


North Korea Today 169th Edition July 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.”



(Image by Google Earth)


Workers in Pyongyang’s Neighborhood Say, “Couldn’t we get the rice from America?”
The Miserable Food Shortages of the Sooncheon Vinalon United Enterprise
Workers of Chungjin Steel Mill Are Doing Piecework Squid Catching on the Side
Hoeyang County Concerned about Harvests in the Fall Due To Lack of Fertilizer
In Euiju County, Money Borrowed From Loan Sharks Is Used to Distribute Supplies to Workers
In Gopoong (고풍) County of Jagang Province, Factories Will Produce Only 20% of the Production Quota


Workers in Pyongyang’s Neighborhood Say, “Couldn’t we get the rice from America?”
Joongwha county of Pyongyang city has a factory that belongs to the Support Bureau of the military. Though this factory is under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, it has the same problem with food shortages as other factories, a state of affairs confirmed by its porridge-eating workers. 49-year-old Kim Hye-uk reports, “Eating grass porridge for so long, I often have a bad headache, feel sick, and throw up. My body often aches all over and I feel worn-out. Anyway, working is dead hard for me. Having nothing to eat, many families split to find ways to survive on their own.”

Bae Jong-whan, a 43-year-old man, complained about the dreary reality of food shortages, “With so many workers lying sick at home, the factory doesn’t send us any regards, but just urges us to come to work without helping us at all. They even condemn us, asking how come we cannot overcome such problems when our four limbs look fine. As a matter of fact, officials and soldiers have food, but even after working dog hard we get nothing to eat; eating nothing, we are too exhausted to move! Such ungrounded curses just get me enraged.”

When workers asked when they can get rations, an official of the factory replied, “With soldiers campaigning for two meals per day, how could there be any rations left for workers? Rationing will not be possible until October.” Upon this response, workers, as they stress the fact that their factory belongs to the Support Bureau of the Military, asked if they could get rice that has been transported from America. In response, factory officials said, “Stop fooling around and go for self-sufficient life!” Workers seem to be wondering why they cannot get any rations despite the Party’s grand publicity campaign that rice is being transported from America.

The Miserable Food Shortages of the Sooncheon Vinalon United Enterprise
The Sooncheon Vinalon[1] United Enterprise(순천비날론연합기업소), which is one of the most famous factories in North Korea, is suffering the same food shortages as other areas. The factory has hardly distributed rations to its workers this year. This factory, having been built with an enormous budget, boasts the largest scale in terms of the number of workers and floor area, yet it has not begun its business properly due to careless construction and poor planning. Nowadays, depending on workers’ place of work, they are given a free hand to sustain their own life. General workers are merely participating in Morale Support Mobilization in each society. With this year’s food shortages getting serious, the number of the participants in social mobilization is decreasing. This is because one after another workers are fainting at home out of extreme hunger. It is said that the officials in charge of the factory are very anxious about the drop in the number of workers coming to work; however, they do not have any remedy for this problem. As the number of absentees soars, directive officials at the factory are announcing that workers who report to the factory will be given rations of whole maize or long grain rice, but many workers are still doubtful.

Workers of Chungjin Steel Mill Are Doing Piecework Squid Catching on the Side

(Image by Google Earth)

As the food shortage gets more serious, workers of the steel mill(제철소) located in the Ranam district of Chungjin city are increasingly looking for a side job instead of going to work. Workers with some money pay the factory 25,000 won per month and go out to catch squid to support themselves. While those who paid money to the factory are given free rein to find supplementary work, those who cannot afford to pay are ordered to quit their piecework and get back to work again by the security officers of the factory. Those workers who resist face an inquisition into their ideology and other threats.

While more than half of the steel mill’s workers are looking for side jobs regardless of whether they paid the factory, others going to work are rummaging in every corner of the factory to see if there is anything left for sale. On June 28, a welder and 150 meters of copper wire were stolen at a steel casting workplace (주강직장). The primary party (초급당) of the steel mill is threatening to punish the culprit severely, but most workers seem to be indifferent. They say it is not surprising that workers surviving on grass porridge will steal in order to buy food. Workers share the opinion that no matter how hard the officials punish theft it will continue unless food rations resume.

Hoeyang County Concerned about Harvests in the Fall Due To Lack of Fertilizer
In Hoeyang county of Kangwon Province, having had no fertilizer since the beginning of this spring’s farming, people are already highly concerned about rice crops and corn this year. The county farming committee has reported to the province administration committee that corn fields are drying out and raised the problem of fertilizer shortages, the only answer they received was: “Go for self-reliability.” The county is mobilizing workers from factories, enterprises, neighborhood units, middle school students, and even first graders of elementary schools to help with the farming. The county ordered them to collect 10 kg of Heukbosan[2] fertilizer (흙보산 비료) per head. Most people have brought blue or dried manure just to meet the allotted amount, so the collected fertilizer contains less than 20% of the necessary ingredients.

Having scattered these kinds of fertilizers, crops are not growing well. Some time ago, the county party was told to pick up fertilizers from the Farming Resources Provision Unit; however, without any oil available for the vehicles, they were almost unable to transport the fertilizer. The county party was particularly anxious about the lack of transportation, fortunately, stationary troops of an artillery rocket regiment (주둔군인 1군단 방사포 련대) made 6 vehicles available. The troops expressed their willingness to help people with their farming. Thanks to the assistance, fertilizers could be transported without any problem. Considering the size of the field, the amount of the transported fertilizer is insufficient, so it has been agreed upon to use it sparingly. Whenever someone is spotted using the fertilizer for individual small areas, they are reported. It has also been ordered that farmers should exert self-reliance in preparing fertilizers in the future. Farmers, whenever they get together, say, “It is obvious that we are going to have a bad harvest this year.” They share the great concern that similar food shortages will definitely occur in the future.

In Euiju County, Money Borrowed From Loan Sharks Is Used to Distribute Supplies to Workers

(Image by Google Earth)

An emergency meeting has been called because workers, who have little to eat, did not come for work at Ryongwun-ri Farm (룡운리 농장) in Euiju County of North Pyongan Province. The administrative board even borrowed money at high rates from loan sharks to give 10 kilograms of corn to every family regardless of the number of family members. The Ryongwun-ri Farm borrowed a total of 8,000 won, but the interest is 1,600 won. The interest will be taken out of the worker’s food ration after the fall harvest. If this happens, it is obvious that workers will once again suffer from food shortage next year.

In Gopoong (고풍) County of Jagang Province, Factories Will Produce Only 20% of the Production Quota
An emergency County Party meeting was summoned in Gopoong County of the Jagang Province, when the authorities found that less than 20% of the production quota could be produced through public enterprises. At the meeting, it was reported that this year’s low accomplishment is because of the number of absent workers. In response, the meeting discussed measures to deal with the workers who have stayed home due to the food shortage. The meeting emphasized, “No matter what the circumstances, the production task must be completed.” Even worse, there was a threat saying, “Any secretaries or superintendents who can’t achieve their production plan should be ready to step down.” The meeting also indicated that if any person responsible for public enterprises does not complete the tasks given by the County Party by the next meeting, he or she will be handed over to the Organization and Guidance Department to be examined and fired. An executive who heard about the meeting sadly commented, “If they think they can resolve the current problem by threatening us, they are very naïve. How can the current situation be resolved when they act as if they know nothing about what is going on these days?”


[1] A synthetic fiber invented by North Korean scientist called Lee Seung-ki, two years after the invention of nylon
[2] A fertilizer made by North Korea, it contains an ingredient used to restore the soil

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