Authorities in North Korea have sentenced five farmers to disciplinary works for hiding corn to be redistributed to state supplies, sources in the country told RFA.
With a meager fall harvest expected, farmers are worried about the annual grain redistribution this year. The government takes 60 percent of each farmer’s harvest, leaving them with the remaining 40 percent.
In most years their share is not enough to live on, but with yields around 20 percent below expectations in some areas, this year could be worse. Because of this, many farmers seek to cheat the system, a resident of northern Ryanggang province told RFA’s Korean service.
“A few days ago, five farmers were caught hiding corn during an unexpected inspection. Each of them was sentenced to five months in a disciplinary work center, “said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“Since each farm receives a yield-based distribution, the amount of the distribution to farmers will inevitably be reduced,” the source said.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicted in June that North Korea would run out of about 860,000 tonnes of food this year, or about two months of supply.
The lower yield this year could mean farmers will only get five or six months of food for next year, an agricultural sector source in the country’s northeastern province, North Hamgyong, told RFA. .
“Since the beginning of October, farms across the country have been assessing how much harvest farmers will get. They expect their distribution to be smaller than usual and they are worried about how they will live next year with very little food, ”said the second source, who requested anonymity. For safety reasons.
“The livelihoods of farmers are intimately linked to redistribution, as they work on the farm all year round,” the second source said.
In North Korea’s burgeoning market economy, most people have side jobs because a government salary is not enough to live on. Farmers, however, do not have time to work elsewhere, so they either live or die from the harvest.
Government plans to take more of the crop this year could leave farmers with just two months of food, while soldiers and other grain recipients will receive their full distribution.
“The grain elevators and outside warehouses are already empty… so the situation is frustrating, it eats through them inside,” the second source said.
The coronavirus pandemic has had profound negative effects on the agricultural industry and the food situation in North Korea, according to the second source.
When Beijing and Pyongyang closed the Sino-Korean border and suspended all trade at the start of the pandemic in January 2020, North Korea was left on its own to produce enough food, without Chinese imports to cover shortages and without access to imports. fertilizer or farm equipment.
The shortage of farm equipment pushed up prices and farmers got into debt, agreeing to repay their creditors with food from the fall harvest, the second source said.
“This will further reduce redistribution to farmers. They have worked hard all year to produce as much grain as possible, but what they will recover this fall will be insignificant, so they are more than frustrated.
The food situation in North Korea is dire.
The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned in a report published in March that the border closure and restrictions on the movement of people could lead to a “serious crisis. food “.
“Starvation deaths have been reported, as well as an increase in the number of children and the elderly who have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them,” the report said.
RFA reported in April that authorities were warning residents to prepare for economic hardship as severe as the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions of people, some estimates as high as 10 percent of the population.
Reported by Myung Chul Lee for the RFA Korean service. Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.