A farm near a village in North Hamgyong Province with a purpose-built guard tower (yellow circle)
and a makeshift guard post (yellow arrow) constructed to help farmers watch over the field.
This year’s harvest in North Korea is projected to be worse than last, fueling growing concerns among farmers that thieves may target their already meager yields due to shortages in the markets.
Sources in North Korea have informed Daily NK that as the fall harvest begins, thefts of grain from farms is expected to continue, causing serious issues for local authorities, farmers, and citizens alike.
“People are starting to worry about whether or not they will have enough food due to growing rumors of a poor harvest, and there is a widespread concern that a lot of grain will be stolen from fields,” a source in Ryanggang Province informed Daily NK on October 9. “Every day, I hear of another instance of a thief being caught by vigilante citizens staying up all night to watch their fields.”
She added that she heard from others in Komsan village near Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) that thefts are occurring daily. Just a few days ago, she noted, two separate households lost their entire bean crop to thieves. There are also numerous reports detailing similar circumstances in the country’s breadbasket regions of [North and South] Hwanghae and [North and South] Pyongan.
“The authorities have mentioned the need to reduce crop losses in propaganda materials, but there are complaints about the lack of reference to crop thefts. So there are concerns about whether the authorities are likely to tackle the problem and if there’ll be enough food for the coming year,” she explained.
Many farmers take security over their fields seriously even in good harvest seasons, but with this year’s poor yields, people are staying up all night to keep watch, as even a small amount lost to theft can leave a whole family in dire straits. The farmers and locals tend to watch the fields themselves. Although police officers also keep watch in some places, they are widely criticized as being so incompetent that “10 of them could not catch a single thief,” she said.
According to the source, the police are widely distrusted because they often only demand bribes from thieves that are caught in the act, which does little to address the problem. However, because citizens are patrolling the fields and catching thieves themselves, it has also been common for fights and other incidents to break out during confrontations.
Another source in Jagang Province spoke of a specific incident where “a fight broke out after citizens in the village of Wiwon caught a thief in the fields. However, after many locals began angrily condemning the thief for stealing their food, they also found themselves asking whether they would do the same in such circumstances.”
“In cases where those guarding their fields catch a thief, the preference is often to deal directly with the thief. If the farmers get the police involved, the thief is typically not made to pay any compensation and might be sent to a labor training camp, so they demand the return of the crops or other compensation directly from the thief instead,” he said.
“Some citizens have been enlisted by the authorities to work in the fields as part of the Samjiyon Shock Troops. Most are worried that if the fundamental problem of theft is not properly addressed, there will be serious food shortages in the coming year. People typically migrate toward the various industrial cities like Kimchaek, Kilju, and Hamhung to find work at this time of year, but if this year’s crop yield turns out to be as bad as predicted, more are likely to stay back and tend the harvest.”