GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 410, July 6, 2011

[“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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[Editor’s Note] South Korea, Please Give Some Fertilizer!
Obtaining Fertilizer is a Trouble
“I Miss Those Days When We Received the South Korean Fertilizer.”
“Small-plot Farming is the Only Way to Survive.”
(Collective) Farm is not a Priority to Farmers, Either
Wonsan Residents Cheer about the Five Days-Worth of Food Ration
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[Editor’s Note] South Korea, Please Give Some Fertilizer!
Many people in North Korea today are missing 3 years ago when the price of fertilizer was not as high as now. It may fairly be said that all people in North Korea from officials to soldiers, except only for the upper class in Pyongyang, manage to eke out a living through farming small land patches. The 300,000 tons of fertilizer that South Korea used to aid North Korea with every year had been of great help managing not only government-owned farm lands but also those of normal people. A portion of the fertilizer that was sent to government-owned farms was leaked to the market and was available to individual farmers. When South Korean government discontinued the fertilizer support in 2008, it was North Korean people who had a critical blow instead of the government. This is why the residents today say "3 years ago was the good times."

Although fertilizers need to be provided in March in order for the crops to be harvested at right time, it is not yet late if we support them now. If South Korean government is in a difficult situation to provide fertilizers, NGOs could always take part in playing the role. It was South Korean government that had said “Fertilizers are safe to be provided since it is less likely to be used for military purposes.” Fertilizer aid will be a great support to people in North Korea who are suffering from hunger.

Obtaining Fertilizer is a Trouble
As the ‘war on weeding’ has started nationwide, every farm has been troubled with obtaining fertilizers. The Collective Farm in Bangjin-ri, Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province did receive the fertilizers from Heungnam Fertilizer Factory in the middle of last May, but the farm is stumped because the fertilizers are far from enough. On the other hand, Hoeryong City stated that they will provide different amount to each farm because they cannot distribute enough amount of fertilizers to every farm; in other words, the amount of fertilizers will be different based on the size of the farm and the harvest outcome of last year. Changtae-ri and Ingye-ri will receive the distribution first, and Poongsan-ri, Oryu-ri and Hongsan-ri which are located in the mountains will be placed on the back burner. It is because regions such as Poongsan-ri cannot produce large amount of yields regardless of how much fertilizer is given. The farmers have at least tried to apply Heukbosan fertilizers that are made of human feces, but they are mostly skeptical about it. One may only be told off, “Heukbosan fertilizer is not a fertilizer. It is a fruitless effort because it does not work like a fertilizer even if you pour down several buckets of it.” The city party is providing a liquid fertilizer that is produced within its jurisdiction, but it is not a solution, either. The farms that used the liquid fertilizer last year have generally evaluated that it did not help much. National Border Areas such as Saebyul, Onsung, Eunduk, and Musan are at least putting their hope on China. They hope that the chemical fertilizers made in China that are imported by strong institutions would come out in the market.

A farm officer in Poongsan-ri of Hoeryong City uttered a deep sigh, “Every year, a plan for grain production is proudly presented in the Farming Management Commission and the plenary meeting of City Party, but it is all useless if they provide just a little fertilizer. How can they boast of making a strong and prosperous nation in this condition?” They cannot help worrying about it because Poongsan-ri is the worst place to grow crops in the city and they receive just a small amount of fertilizers as they have not completed the grain plan so far. The chief engineers of the farm take charge of the fertilizers distributed from the city party and provide them to each work unit, but this is also tainted by corruption. The managers are frequently siphoning off the fertilizers and hand them over to the people who are engaged in the small land patch farming. Incidents are occurring one by one this year as well where an officer is caught and discharged while siphoning off the fertilizers. No matter how hard the police officers keep a close watch on it with their eyes wide open from the train station where the fertilizers are delivered to the respective farms, it is of no use. Rather, the police officers are the ones who intervene and siphon them off in many cases.

“I Miss Those Days When We Received the South Korean Fertilizer.”
One official of Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province still remembers the fertilizer which South Korea had sent to them. The official recalled that the farmers were very satisfied with the high quality fertilizer. No matter how poor a harvest they had gathered, even during natural disasters, the crop was much better than the past three years without the South Korean fertilizer. The official added, “We miss that time. The fertilizer went around to each and every one of (government-owned) farms and even the small patch farmers also used the South Korean fertilizer. I guess that’s how the small patch farms had better crops than the (government-owned) farms.”

Gang, Hwasung (alias) who has done small land patch farming for 17 years said, “3 years ago, I could easily get fertilizer since there was the supply coming from South Korea. Now I’m battling to get fertilizer. I’ve used human manure for 2 years now because I couldn’t get any fertilizer, and the crop was too small last year. Farming is about laborious work, watering often and lot of care from sowing to the harvesting. Using the chemical fertilizer one time makes a lot more difference to the farming than using human manure several times. 1 Kg of chemical fertilizer alone will make me so happy right now.”


“Small-plot Farming is the Only Way to Survive.”
This year, the number of absentee workers has gone up at Hoeryong City Mining Machine Factory. Most of them did not come to work because they had to work on their small patch farm. They said they have decided to skip work to avoid being dragged into numerous mobilizations such as farm mobilization which made them unable to attend to their small patch farms. Most of this type of people even build a make-shift hut using vinyl and live there. As many as 8 workers have been arrested for avoiding work while living in such make-shift hut for the past two months from May to June. They protested by saying, “Instead of sitting and waiting for death by starvation we just tried to survive by doing something. Why is that a crime? Give us food, then we will go to work every day and join the farm mobilization.” However, they all received the punishment of being sent to the municipal discipline center.

At every enterprise it was announced that those who fail to show up at work without permission will be given the punishment of two months at the discipline center without exceptions. Everyone knows that such threat is just empty words. This is because small-plot farming is the most popular way to make living in addition to trading. People reluctantly participate in farm mobilization because they can be criticized if they spend all their time at their small patch farm and in some unlucky cases may even receive punishment at the discipline center, but their mind is somewhere else. They always try to find ways to finish the farm mobilization work as quickly as possible and rush to their own patch farm. The majority of people claim that, “It will be good if we are allowed to have our own farm. How can we be productive at the collective farm in a situation where we can’t even work in our own farm?” They are also being very critical about the officials as well. Kim, Myung-ae (alias) who lives in Soobuk-dong pointed out that “Those who have the easiest lives are the officials in our country. Even though the ordinary people have tough lives working hard at the field the officials do their own private farming by having their subordinates to work on their farm.”

Kim, Gie-chul (alias) who has worked at the mining machine factory for more than 30 years got into a big trouble recently. Although he has been a model worker loyal to the Party, for the first time he skipped work without permission and went to work at his small patch farm. He has never been absent from work for the past 33 years, but this time he did not show up at work for 40 days. He was beaten severely by the security officers. Fortunately he was able to avoid being sent to the discipline center because he has never been absent from work before. Mr. Kim showed his strong will about small-plot farming by saying, “All my family members will starve to death if we cannot work on the patch farm. I will return to the patch farm even if they beat me to death.”

(Collective) Farm is not a Priority to Farmers, Either
Farmers devote themselves to small patch farming as well. Farmers get up at 3:00 A.M., work at their own farm from 4:00 A.M. to 7:00 A.M. and then go to the (collective) farm to work. They sporadically work at their own farm even during lunch hours from noon to 2:00 P.M. While factory workers and members of Democratic Women Union can at least take part in doing business, for the farmers, farming is the only source of income because doing business is not easy for them.

Kim, Jangbok (alias) said, “Who would work eagerly at the (collective) farm when you receive a share of only 5-6 months worth of food after working their fingers to the bone a whole year?” They harvest more crops from their own farm than the (collective) farm even without enough fertilizer. “What I farmed becomes mine.” This is Kim’s theory. If all family members put as much energy as possible into the small patch farming, the family gets the rewards commensurate with their work. The family members, including his son and daughter-in-law work at their small patch farm by taking turns because it is the busiest farming season. They take days off in turn according to the situation in order to work at their own farm or sometimes secretly go there even during working hours. However, they go to their farm openly after 4:00 P.M. While people who are mobilized [to help the farming] in rural areas go to the market one by one with their things for sale, farmers go up to the mountain to take care of their farms, applying Heukbosan fertilizer one more time.

Wonsan Residents Cheer about the Five Days-Worth of Food Ration
In mid June, Wonsan City of Gangwon Province received cheers after distributing five days worth of food to the members of the Democratic Women’s Union and laborers who were mobilized for farm work. “It’s like rain during a drought” was the general response of the recipients who said that business was extremely slow in the marketplace. “It may not be much, but the fact that I can have a meal brought a happy smile to my face,” said Choi Myung-Ok (pseudonym). “It feels so good to be able to eat today even though I may starve tomorrow. See how happy the people are after receiving five days worth of food rations. Think how happy they would be if food rationing was normalized” said a farm worker with a bitter smile.

During the farming season people mobilized to work at the farms are given only a bowl of porridge for breakfast, and it’s no wonder that they become light-headed and collapse while they are working. The workload is heavy, but their stomachs are empty so it is hard to muster enough energy to work. So everyone idles away time, working half-heartedly. According to Han Myung-Sun (pseudonym), “The workload during the farming season is unbearable. They act so generous giving us meager amounts to eat and worked us to death. I wanted to tell them not to give us food and let us go to the market to sell our wares instead.” However, the fact that food is provided once a week makes the situation better than last year. People are told that it is three to four days worth of food, but actually it lasts less than two days. Because there are so many levels of officials who appropriate shares of the rationed food, the amount that is given to the lowest ranked citizens is drastically reduced. However, despite the meager amounts of food people are given, it still helps them alleviate some of their hunger. The residents who have finished the ‘war on rice seedling planting’ now are put into the ‘war on weeding’.

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