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North Korea Today No. 189

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
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North Korea Today No. 189
Food prices going up again in August
Table of Rice Price in Three Major Cities from end of June to August 2, 2008
Chart of Rice Price Variation in Three Major Cities from end of June to August 2, 2008
Kaesong Asks the Military to Farm Flood-damaged Lands
Residents of Kaesong Suffering in the Downpour; “We will leave here when the winter comes.”
Exemption of Army Provisions in Seoheung County Due to Severe Flood Damage
Flooded Farming Fields Due to Heavy Rain in Pyonggang and Kimhwa County in Kangwon Province
[Opinion] The food Shortage for Farm Workers Must Be Urgently Dealt With.


(Image by Google earth)
Food prices going up again in August
Beginning in August, food prices began to rise again in the markets. This was because the food that came in from the outside was not as much as what the authorities had previously led the people to believe. Further, there was rumor among the import/export traders that even smuggled rice from China would not be allowed starting August. All these led to a one-day jump of from 200 to 300 won in prices. The authorities had previously announced that plenty of food would be coming into the country once June was gone. However, when rice merchants saw that not as much food as expected came in during July, they are holding on to their stocks and just raising the prices. In effect, the food merchants are in constant contacts with one another across different regions and coordinating the price increase.

Rice prices, which had gone up all the way to 4,000 won in late May, began to drop in June and stabilized around 2,500~2,700 won in July. As American food were being distributed in July, prices crept down to 2,300~2,400. However, when people realized that external aid was not enough, food prices began to jump again in large increments. For example, in Hoeryong, rice price was 2,400 won on July 31st and went up to 2,700 won on August 1st before going up to 3,000 the following day on August 2nd. In Hamheung City, rice price was 2,600 on July 31st and went up to 2,800 on August 1st and 3,050 on August 2nd.

Table of Rice Price in Three Major Cities from end of June to August 2, 2008
(unit: won/kg)

Chart of Rice Price Variation in Three Major Cities from end of June to August 2, 2008


Kaesong Asks the Military to Farm Flood-damaged Lands
The heavy rains on July 24~25th severely damaged the farmlands and destroyed the crops. Therefore, they brought in tractors to turn over the land and get ready to plant cabbages and radishes needed for the winter Gimchi-making season. The Kaesong authorities - judging that the farm collectives would have trouble working the flood-damaged lands because they have enough trouble currently making farm workers show up to work because of the acute food shortage situation – asked the local military based in the region to farm the land themselves and use whatever they harvest for their own use and also grow their own vegetables that they were supposed to receive from the local farming collectives. Local military, fully aware of the difficulties faced by local farm collectives, agreed. They agreed that the military would farm for their own food and only receive support from locals if necessary, so as to lessen pressure on the local farm collectives as much as possible.

When the local farms heard of the agreement, they replied, “it’s good that we are under less pressure for now, but we don’t know if this is good for the long-run.” Kim Jong-ae (43), who lives in Gaepoong County, said, “We understand that this decision was made because they realized that we couldn’t possibly fill the mandatory order to supply the military in our current situation. Since we cannot even make farm workers come to work, it is obvious that we could not do anything to grow the winter vegetables, so I heard that they decided to give the farmland to the factories and military to plant and grow on their own. Perhaps this is for the best. However, although this looks like the optimal solution for now, I really do not know what we are going to live on when now we will not even have anything over the winter. I understand that they tried to lighten the burden on us farm workers, but perhaps they should have forced us to farm the damaged farmlands so that we would something left over for the winter.”

Residents of Kaesong Suffering in the Downpour; “We will leave here when the winter comes.”
The residents of Kaesong and surrounding farm areas suffered great damages due to the heavy rains on August 2-3, on the heels of downpour in July. The farm workers who will have trouble with fall harvests are saying, “We will gather up as much food as possible during fall and go to another region over the winter to try to make a living as merchants or whatever.”

Ko Jung-nam (39) said, “The government didn’t compensate us for the rain damages at all. Many farms are so damaged that they will not be able to harvest even a single grain. I have no idea what we will do.” Although workers are not coming to work because the collectives don’t have any food to give them, the collectives are nevertheless trying to convince the farm workers to show up for work by promising them one-year’s worth of food. However, the farm workers won’t buy the promise, saying, “Don’t try to fool us with false promises because we won’t work if we see no effort to give us food or there isn’t enough to give us any.” Right now, they are weeding the fields of pebbles and sand. As soon as they are done, they will begin planting winter vegetables.

Exemption of Army Provisions in Seoheung County Due to Severe Flood Damage
The constant heavy rainfall in the farming villages has caused severe flood damages to 180 Jungbo of the rice field (about 441 acres) and 80 Jungbo of the cornfields (about 196 acres) in Seoheung County of the North Hwanghae Province. The army authorities say that the severely damaged farms will not have to provide army provisions or pork to support the People’s Army. They plan to collect the crops from the least damaged farms to distribute to the farm workers.

Flooded Farming Fields Due to Heavy Rain in Pyonggang and Kimhwa County in Kangwon Province
On August 2nd and 3rd, the heavy rain that was pouring all across North Korea brought flood damage to both Pyonggang and Kimhwa Counties in the Kwangwon Province. The Kangwon Province, mostly made up of infertile mountainous areas, needs farmlands more than any other province. However, the heavy rain almost destroyed approximately 200 Jungbo (about 490 acres) of farmland in Pyonggang County making it almost impossible to harvest anything from there. After a week, the water has drained but the damage to crops is severe due to the run over of sand and gravel all over the farmlands. The cornfields have also been severely flooded, making it difficult to glean the grains. The few ears of gleaned corn kernels are in such a condition that they are too smelly to eat. However, it was decided that whatever grain can be gathered will be to be distributed to the farm workers.

[Opinion] The food Shortage for Farm Workers Must Be Urgently Dealt With.
Anything more than 80mm per day of rain is terms to be a downpour. This past July 24th, regions that include Kaesong and parts of South Hwanghae Province, experienced more than 100mm of average daily rainfall. From August 2-3, 27 regions throughout North Korea experienced another downpour. North Korean reports say that some regions experienced more than 300mm of rain.

Flood damage has now become an inevitable part of life in North Korea. Flood damage control measures such as planting trees in the denuded hills, refurbishing dikes, and shoring up levees must be started with utmost effort. But even more importantly, it is critical that the farm workers, who have lost their will and energy, are rejuvenated.

Farm workers have been surviving through the hardship season, ever since spring, by going out to the field and mountains and gathering up grass and roots to eat. July, with the first crops and external aid, seemed more hopeful. But the floods came again without fail and swept away whatever harvests they had been waiting for.

Although they might bring in hundreds of other workers from factories, schools, and army to farm, the experienced hands of a farmer are an essential ingredient to a successful growing season. The food shortage for farmers must be resolved so that the farmers can focus on farming again. Food should be distributed to the farmers on a priority basis and encourage them to farm private plots so that they are given the resources to take care of themselves first and foremost. Like in Seoheung County, obligatory remission of pork and military rations should be forgiven so that the farm workers would not have to bear so many burdens. We must remember that the farmers must work in order to increase any food production.
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