In recent days, both Daily NK and Japanese group ASIAPRESS have reported cases of starvation in the region of North Korea with the most productive agricultural land, North and South Hwanghae Province. The news has caused a great deal of surprise.
To North Korean defectors, it is clear that the civilian starvation is a direct result of the decision to prioritize the military under the military-first policy and the subsequent obligation on the part of cooperative farms to provide rice for soldiers, coupled to controls covering trading activities by farm employees.
34-year old Lee Mi Kyung, who defected in 2011 from South Hwanghae Province, explained to Daily NK, “If everything grown did not go to military rice stores, then nobody would die. When I was in North Korea, because everything went for military rice there was nothing to eat in the farming season so we couldn’t work properly.”
“When autumn harvest time comes, soldiers guard the threshing shed and take all the grain that comes through it,” she went on. “If that proves not to be enough, then they also take privately farmed cereals into state stores in the name of military stocks”
Indeed, rather than protecting the interests of farmers, management committees responsible for overseeing agricultural activities actually order active cooperation with the Chosun People’s Army, she added..
In addition, there is the problem of finding access to multiple sources of food. Unlike urban families, both man and woman in a farming couple have to work the land, meaning that if autumn distribution and the harvest from private market gardens do not go well, there is no other way to obtain food.
According to defector Cha Young Ho (50), this is clearly a rural problem. He said, “People in the cities can trade, so there haven’t been many starvation deaths since the end of the March of Tribulation. But since last summer it started getting so bad that people have been collapsing in the fields for lack of food.”
In the midst of this situation, meanwhile, both Rodong Shinmun, the publication of the Chosun Workers’ Party, and international media outlets based in Pyongyang have been publishing pictures of active and seemingly successful rice planting going on in the region surrounding the North Korean capital.
On the 22nd, Rodong Shinmun even published a story announcing that “Managers and workers from Haeju City organs, factories and enterprises are working with fiery passion to support farming activities, aiming to bring about a decisive change and solve the people’s food problems.”