North Korea Today No. 238

No.238 October 2008

○ “Secure Rice for the Military First even in the Case of Reducing the Farmers’ Share”
○ Farmers Shocked and Angered At the Divestment of their Rations to the Military
○ Farmers are Shocked at the Requirement to Surrender 200 MT of Rice to the Military
○ Honorably Discharged Soldiers Still Receive No Rations
○ Discharged Soldiers Rob Houses before Coming Home
○ [Opinion] Farmers should not be forced to Sacrifice to Reserve Rice for the Military

“Secure Rice for the Military First even in the Case of Reducing the Farmers’ Share”
October 9th, after hearing about the details of this year’s crop situation from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Central Party asked workers in the rear who are under the Support Bureau of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces how much food is needed for each army corps. They issued a new order when the workers in the rear front told them that the reserved rice wouldn’t be sufficient this year.

The Central Party issued an order to each city and county that “3-5 months quantity of food out of one year’s amount should be distributed to farmers in the countryside around the nation; collect the rest of the available food to be reserved for the military. The party members should play the central role, taking the lead in collecting the reserved military food.”
Farmers Shocked and Angered At the Divestment of their Rations to the Military
In order to ensure food rations for the army from this year’s crop, the Central Party gave an order to cut food rations to farmers. The Farm Administration Committee of Sariwon City in North Hwanghae Province tried to raise an objection to the Party’s decision, but it was rejected. The Committee claims that if the food ration for farmers is cut and diverted to the military, farmers would not come to work, as happened last year. To avert farmer absenteeism, the Committee requested that the authorities reconsider their decision. Nevertheless, the Committee’s criticism provoked the Central Party and resulted in a member of the committee being brought up for a hearing by the board of inquiry. The officer may be dismissed from his post. In addition, farm officers are perplexed by the authorities’ decision because they know very well how vulnerable the farmers are. Despite dissatisfaction with the authorities, they are compelled to comply with the Party’s order with no complaints. Farmers are full of worries as to how they will manage to live next year if they cannot receive a food ration this year.

Farmers are Shocked at the Requirement to Surrender 200 MT of Rice to the Military
Starting this year, each farm in South Hamgyong Province has been asked to give 100 MT of rice to the military. However, the chairman of a farm management committee at a farm in Hamju County volunteered to give 200 MT, shocking the members of his farm. For the farmers who will rely on the leftover rice for their food supply, the chairman’s promise was terrifying news.

The farmers denounced the chairman and vehemently protested. The committee chairman is facing fierce anger from the residents as he claims there is nothing he can do because he has to follow the order from his superiors.

Honorably Discharged Soldiers Still Receive No Rations
Between the end of September and early October, soldiers who completed their military services in the 10th warning squadron, which is stationed in Nampo city, South Pyongan Province, and an infantry battalion did not receive their food rations even by the last day of army service. On their way home, lunch boxes are not even provided to those soldiers carrying a certificate of discharge. They were saddened, saying “We have served hard for our country for a long period, but we can’t be treated to even a bowl of rice on the last day of military service.”

Discharged Soldiers Rob Houses before Coming Home
Soldiers who were about to be discharged from military service made desperate efforts to steal something, worried about returning home with empty hands. Soldiers discharged from the Army Convoy Unit (호위국) received 2 kg of brown rice and 1 kg of hard biscuits, but most of the soldiers discharged from other units received nothing before returning home. For this reason, some discharged soldiers robbed houses near their base or sometimes even their commander’s house. Jang, Cheol-ho, (age 28), described the atmosphere in the military, “in order to take home rewards after 10 years of military service, many soldiers think about house robbery, even unscrupulously robbing the home of their superior. These soldiers often do more than just think about robbery, performing the acts before leaving the military.”

[Opinion] Farmers should not be forced to Sacrifice to Reserve Rice for the Military
Fall harvest is in full swing in North Korea. However, people in rural areas are already worried about next year’s food shortages. With the absolute lack of food production there is a conflict over the distribution of shares of grain between the military and farmers. The situation is such that an increase in the share for the military is a decrease in the allotment for farmers, while attempts to reserve shares of grain for farmers further reduces the already low military share.

The Central Party issued an order reducing the farmer’s share to 3-5 months worth because of the lack of reserved military shares of grain. This type of policy is very worrisome since it is forcing powerless farmers to make further sacrifices. For instance, an official in Hamju County is receiving strong opposition from farmers because of his announcement that farmers will give a larger amount of grain to the military than what was requested.

Even last year many farms throughout the country were not able to provide distribution quantity to farmers. Many farms in Bahkchun County North Pyongan Province distributed only a two-month quantity. As a result, hunger stricken farmers could not perform the seeding this spring. Instead of farm work, the farmers roamed around the mountains and fields to collect grass so that they could survive on grass porridge. In addition, many deaths from hunger occurred at the farms in Hwanghae Province. This year, farmers had more serious food shortage problems than any other people and barely survived.

Therefore, this Central Party's policy is basically asking North Korean farmers to survive the whole year with only 3 months worth of food. Asking the farmers who have been barely surviving on grass porridge to sustain their lives the same way for another year is simply too harsh. The reason why some farm officials have already distributed rice before they received the order to collect the military’s rice was due to the existing poor conditions. The farm officials should not consider their distribution to be a political action against the party’s policy. On the contrary, the party’s policy that forces the farmers to make unilateral sacrifices is something that undermines the spirit of equality between the military and the people.

The reserve rice for the military can be supplemented at any time when there is a surplus. However, farmers, who have to receive 1 year’s-worth of distribution in the fall, do not have a chance to supplement the food until the next cycle. Moreover, it is not easy for most farmers to open a private business, and traffic inconveniences and a lack of reasonable means of transportation makes it difficult to receive food aid from outside local areas.

Of course, we understand that the food situation in the military is a very serious one. But North Korean authorities can only solve their problem if they first ensure the livelihood of farm households. Farmers need to be the first priority, because if they are unable to cultivate their fields due to hunger, there is no guarantee that there will be food at the next year's harvest time. We urge the North Korean government to resolve the food shortage by increasing food imports and to also be more aggressive in its search for outside food aid.