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North Korea Today No. 325 Hot Topics and Food January 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics No. 325]
Starting January 14, Only Farmers Markets are Allowed
’40-Day Battle’ Planned to Crack Down on Complaints about Market Closure
Police Authorities Monitor Illegal Transaction of Trading Companies
Strong Crackdown on Price Begins in Chungjin, Afternoon of Jan. 8

[Food]
Choosang Collective Farm, Low Grain Production for 3 Consecutive Years
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[Hot Topics]
Starting January 14, Only Farmers Markets are Allowed
The North Korean cabinet made announcements to each ministry, province, city, and county party that starting from January 14, market management and operation will be in the form of farmer’s market which opens every 10 days. This is in compliance with the Central Party’s policy regarding “Management and Operation of Farmer’s Market.” As such, the general markets in major cities throughout the county will be open until the 13th. Once the markets switch over to farmer’s market, only agricultural goods and farm products will be allowed for trading. The authorities made it clear that “No Chinese products and domestic industrial goods can be traded” and handed down the rules and regulations of market management and operation and the specifics of agricultural goods that can be traded to each province. The merchants who sell industrial goods and Chinese products are told to sell their merchandise until the 13th and the goods they could not sell by that day should be turned over to state-run stores at the government-set price.

'40-Day Battle' Planned to Crack Down on Complaints about Market Closure
Following the notice of farmer’s market only policy effective on the 14th, city and county party officials decided to visit district administration offices and concentrate on education projects including lecture and commentary in order to silence complaints and disagreement about the government’s policy implementation efforts. Meanwhile, the police authorities expected that after the market operation is banned, unorganized commercial activities in densely populated areas, so-called ‘grasshopper trading’ (merchants moving around to escape crackdown) and ‘alley trading’ (selling goods in the alley), will flourish. The police thus decided to strengthen enforcement on them. They have decided to launch “40-Day Battle by selecting enforcement officers from relevant police stations, police substations and security officers to crackdown and control stalls, private restaurants, and merchants trading without government permissions.”

The Cabinet ordered the police authorities to launch a full mobilization of enforcement officials in order to prevent chaos as much as possible, as they predicted that “suspension of market management may cause a temporary hardship on the residents’ life”. It was ordered, “If a merchant does not comply with the enforcement officer’s demand and resist or react, the merchant will be fined according to the kinds of traded product and will receive a police report, no matter how small the incident may be.” Any forceful measure can be applied in order to implement the policy, they said. Meanwhile, the authorities stressed in a lecture for residents, “The existing market management formed by residents hinders our way of socialism and development to pave the way to the Strong and Prosperous Nation. It is also an act of corruption and distortion. All the residents need to understand this clearly and mobilize themselves to execute the new market management.”

Police Authorities Monitor Illegal Transaction of Trading Companies
As a way of banning general markets, the police authorities began to monitor whether trading companies are involved in illegal transactions beginning in the morning of January 9. In case an illegal transaction, such as selling or handing over products that were received from private wholesalers, is uncovered, a severe punishment will be imposed, including closing down of sales offices of the trading company. In addition, individual merchant’s use of cars registered as government vehicle as a commercial vehicle will be strictly prohibited. In fact, it is quite common that individuals borrow a public enterprise’s name to buy cars because an individual is not allowed to own a car. Hence, situations will occur where those who actually paid for the cars are banned from using them. Authorities are expecting that forbidding commercial activities of individual merchants this way will lead to a halt in unregulated trading activities of the residents. However, it is likely that the resistance of the residents will be substantial. Reflecting the residents’ discontent, a wholesale merchant in Pyongsung city said, “People have a great deal of opinions about the government policies. They are complaining that the government devises measures without considering the people’s convenience. The government is a mere spectator for people’s suffering, no matter how bad their living conditions become.”

Strong Crackdown on Price Begins in Chungjin, Afternoon of Jan. 8
Once at the peak of 200 won, the rice price seems to have hit the ceiling due to the strong crackdown of the authorities. In Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, police officers began crackdown by storming to markets and confiscating food in the afternoon of January 3. Fifty to 100 Kg of rice was confiscated from 5 merchants who were selling food at a market in Pohang district. Merchants at the scene reported, “The police officers were very brutal and violent, making everyone scared.” After the crackdown swept the markets, the price of 1 Kg of rice fell from 100 won to 80 won and to 70 won again, and it is around 60 won as of January 10. As a means to crack down skyrocketing prices, Chupyung market in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province and Soonchun market in South Pyongan Province did not allow food merchants to enter the market at all, beginning in the afternoon of January 9. As a result, food stands in Hamheung city and Soonchun market were not operated on that day. Residents who have not been able to trade after the currency revaluation received salaries and 500 won relief money, but an increasing number of households are using up their money due to skyrocketing prices.

[Food]
Choosang Collective Farm, Low Grain Production for 3 Consecutive Years

Grain production has been low for 3 consecutive years in Choosang Collective Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province. As one of the on-site guidance instruction* units of late Premier Kim Il-sung, the farm receives special attention in Hamjubul. However, in the past few years, the Province Farm Management Committee and the County Party has evaluated that “The production performance turned poor because they lack a sense of ownership.” Generally, Hamjubul has had a good supply of fertilizers from Heungnam fertilizer factory, but Choosang Collective Farm did not receive as much fertilizer compared to the previous years. As such, the farm officials had to endeavor to secure Heukbosan fertilizer, following the policy of self-supported farming. However, the quality of Heukbosan fertilizer did not reach the standard, and the farm was dishonored by having the lowest grain yield among the on-site guidance instruction units. Meanwhile, to improve lowered soil productivity due to acidification, the work unit 1, 4, 5, 7, 9 and Farm Youth Groups worked hard on plowing from January to March. They also dug out and scattered peats to the farmland.

In May and June, an increasing number of famers were absent due to the shortage of grains. Overall, more than 5 to 6 households per work unit were absent. They suffered perpetually from starvation, eating grass meal or grass porridge with wild green picked from mountains, and made living by selling medicinal herb such as balloon flower roots, and various types of herbs. It was not until late June that they harvested barley and received 10 days’ worth of food. The officials gave 20 days’ worth of food to the household that completely ran out of food, which would be deducted from fall food distribution because they reasoned that providing the laborers with some food and make them work during the 150-Day Battle would be better than leaving them starved and absent from work.

Since the completion of harvest on October 28, each work unit was working on corn and rice threshing. Like other farms, Choosang Cooperative Farm increased security to prevent grain theft and stealing of grains by farmers. However, the thrashing work did not go smoothly. The threshing machine broke down repeatedly because each work unit kept the machines running 3-4 hours per shift without a pause. Technical Instructors and the engineers of the mechanization unit tried to repair the broken part, but they had difficulties with money for parts. As a result, they sold grains to raise the money for parts, but this was the problem. The senior members of the Provincial agricultural management committee of South Hamgyong Province who came to inspect the threshing work harshly criticized the act and dismissed the chief engineer.

The assessment of the grain harvest after threshing showed 3 to 3.5 tons produced per Jungbo (2.45 acres). Last year, at least 4 to 5 tons of corn per Jungbo was harvested. The result is quite disappointing considering the unprecedented amount of labor mobilization poured into 150-Day Battle followed by 100-Day Battle. Officials are determined to make the food distribution strictly performance-based, criticizing that the farmers must have been negligent of their duties and slacking. In November, corn was first distributed. After the currency revaluation on November 30, laborers who worked full-time without absence received 15,000 won of cash distribution.

*A propaganda material which claims that the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung gave instructions to North Korean people on how to do perform various tasks. Kim Il-sung’s instructions define North Korean people’s morality and rules and being used as basis for all plans.
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