GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 223

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng
No.223 October 2008

“I can only come up with courage to buy corn noodle after long deliberation.”
A Ban on Food Stalls in Markets to Prevent Food Waste
People’s Defense Ministry, “Secure Procurement of Rice for the Military from Farms
Because of Weak Soldiers, Limit Hard Physical Training
A Measure, “Provide Bean-curd Refuse During This Year’s Winter Drill”
[Opinion] Listen to the People When They Say, “Let us open our own business”




“I can only come up with courage to buy corn noodle after long deliberation.”
Nowadays, the best selling grain in the market throughout the country is corn. Rice is so hard to find people can barely buy a handful on holidays or for family birthdays. Even the well-to-do households buy corn as the main staple rather than rice. Other households can afford corn only when they have good earnings from time to time. As people eat corn as the main staple in their diets the most popular food among people has become corn noodle. Jo Myong-hyun (age 29) who lives in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province says, “Once in a while I buy corn noodle, but I make the decision after thinking about it for more than half the day.” It is not easy for him to buy the food as much as he desires because he cannot afford it. A bowl of corn noodle costs only about 1,500 won. But many still cannot afford to buy it other than on special occasions. Most of the farmers and people with low income are instead eating grass porridge with a few grains of corn in it. Ms. Jang In-soon (age 43) who sells corn noodle in the market says,” Because corn noodle is easily digested, most people do not find it filling even after consuming 2 to 3 bowls. Many people feel unsatisfied after finishing one bowl even though it was a big decision after a long deliberation. It is very difficult to buy corn noodle unless it is a very special occasion because of the destitute situation.”
A Ban on Food Stalls in Markets to Prevent Food Waste
On September 13, the Central Party issued a statement that stated, “We must completely remove traditions, such as big feasts, marriages, and other family ceremonies, that do not comply with our rules in order to prevent food waste.” As a result, major cities across the country have taken an action to ban food stalls in markets as of September 20.

The main dishes that ordinary people usually purchase at food stalls are tofu rice, noodles, and bread. The prices are as follows: 200 won for a package of tofu rice, 1,300 won for 1 kg of dark wheat bread, 1,300-1,500 won for a bowl of corn noodle soup. People who are better off, on the other hand, buy rice cakes and sundae (a Korean food similar to sausage) and these foods respectively cost 2,300 and 2,600 won per kg, quite expensive for the average person.

Responses of residents to this new ban on food stalls in markets, however, are rather indifferent, and they said, “Foods like rice cake and sundae are only affordable by high-ranking officials and rich people.” People do not seem to be much affected by the ban, as they could not afford dishes at food stands in markets anyway. On the contrary, street vendors who sell foods sigh with frustration at losing their means of living.

People’s Defense Ministry, “Secure Procurement of Rice for the Military from Farms
While the deteriorating food situation of the military becomes worse, People’s Defense Ministry (인민무력부) is facing difficulties in procuring rice for the military. Following last year’s low harvest, forecasts that this year’s crop will not reach the projected amount are continuously reported; and these disappointing reports make it even harder for the military to obtain food. In particular, the low harvest in border areas like Hwanghae province directly affects the food situation in the military.

Meanwhile, authorities of People’s Defense Ministry at a meeting with rearguard officers stressed, “When receiving grains from farms, secure the whole quantity and do not even miss a single grain. There should not be any illegal tricks to seize it for a personal purpose involved in the delivery process.” In addition, “Even if there is a farm that refuses or is unable to provide the rice, you must extract the assigned amount of rice from all farms with no exception. If we fail to obtain the required amount of the rice this year, the number of feeble people in the military will increase, which will ultimately weaken our military power. We cannot even observe military rules under the current situation. Therefore, rearguard officers should put all the efforts in alleviating the food situation. Also, do your best in procuring subsidiary foods, including radishes and cabbages” military authorities repeatedly mentioned.

Because of Weak Soldiers, Limit Hard Physical Training
Infantry squads of 91 Military Training Camp based in Taesung-ri, Kangsuh County, South Pyongan Province, decided to decrease the intensity of the winter intensified drill that will begin from December 1 of this year due to malnourished soldiers. Although this military unit has provided soldiers with wheat for three meals a day, the amount of them was less than 300g. Because the meals do not include any side dishes and their amount cannot satisfy even children’s hunger, the increase in the number of malnourished soldiers is natural. A certain company of this camp has as many as 70 malnourished soldiers out of 100. Thus, they will be discharging soldiers who are suffering from critical malnutrition and cannot continue their duties, by the end of October. Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces ordered the unit to discharge the soldiers in secret in order not to spread any rumors.

On the other hand, when a staff of the military unit stated that there was a lecture for commanders of battalions of Pyongyang and 91 Military Training Camp and commanders of Support bureau last September 14, he also said, “As the food shortage has worsened, soldiers are getting weak. Although I want to put my men to work, I cannot do so because they are so weak. It is unlikely that anyone will be able to participate in and endure a winter intensified drill that will begin from December 1.” According to his statement, they decided to avoid any hard drills as much as they could and to practice basic tactics during this winter-intensified drill.

A Measure, “Provide Bean-curd Refuse During This Year’s Winter Drill”
During the winter military drill that will begin on December 1 of this year, the military has decided to provide soldiers with bean curd refuse for meals. On the designated days, each unit must give soldiers beans that they have conserved after harvesting and threshing for making tofu. However, some military units in Pyongyang have already consumed the reserved beans obtained from their extra farming because of the food shortage. For example, one unit boiled all their beans and even the pods together for the soldiers’ meals, so they do not have any beans in reserves. Because they ordered each platoon to prepare the beans as soon as they could, some officers are worried that they will have to resort to stealing beans from random farms to restore their reserves.

[Opinion] Listen to the People When They Say, “Let us open our own business”
Recently, many residents of North Hamgyung Province are filing petitions at the superior office for business licenses for the market. There are several reasonable causes for people filing for these petitions.

First, it demonstrates that the government is unable to resolve the food, clothing, and shelter crisis for its people. Second, those who are good at business can take care of food, clothing, and shelter issues themselves and therefore should be allowed to. Thirdly, making a day-to-day life has become more difficult because of the government restrictions on business. This trend also illustrates that people perceive the government policies to be exacerbating the food shortage situation rather than improving it. Fourthly, people who have lost the means for making livelihood any other way end up committing crimes just to survival, causing social unrest and the worsening of societal order.

The North Korean government probably has its reasons for, so severely, restricting who can set up businesses in the market. There is already a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, which goes against the societal ideology of equality among people. There is also a problem with some of the financiers raising food prices in order to make more profit in their sales. It could also be a great waste of labor power if no restrictions are applied in a country where all of the laborers and labor power rely on the market to make daily income. Rampant proliferation of drugs, foreign media, dollar black-market, flocking of the homeless (Kkotjebis), and low quality food and medicine all pose serious social problems as well. It is understood that the restrictions on the market is to preserve the order of the society and control illegal activities.

Nevertheless, despite these problems the North Korean government should not ignore the demands of the people any more. Doing business is the only means of making a living for those with no rations. Therefore, under the current conditions it is impossible to place restrictions on trading at the market. A series of policies such as prohibiting rice sales and banning food business can only bring about resistance from people. It may even be a barrier for preserving social order by creating new social conflict, which is exemplified in the increase in the types of crimes committed for survival not only threatening the foundation of community, but also lowering the quality of life in the society.

No matter how good the intention of a policy is, they should be implemented to protect the people’s right to make a living. The petitions people file are righteous demands. Therefore, it is better to accept them rather than restricting them with various reasons. People’s right to make a living is the top priority the government should guarantee as its obligation. We hope that they will listen to the people’s cry saying, “Give us rations, or let us do business so that we can make our own living.” We hope that the North Korean government will do the best it can to find a way to guarantee people’s livelihoods in this difficult situation where not enough ration can be provided.
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