[Photo] Soldiers granted leave to find food

Local residents in North Korea’s farming districts are reportedly putting in extra work this season in an attempt to secure more food for the coming months. A series of events including international sanctions and a poor harvest caused by drought has left many in difficult times, and army conscripts are also dealing with the failure of the authorities to provide sufficient food rations.

“More people are worried about food this year than last year. Even though the price of rice hasn’t changed much in the markets, people are especially worried that the effects of international sanctions will continue to mount and soon cause even more problems,” a source in Ryanggang Province who spoke with Daily NK on December 27 said.

“Many are having to deal with aggressive loansharks demanding payments, and so they’re out trying to sell items on the street and not even thinking about going home to celebrate the New Year. But the markets are busy and prices are a bit lower with all the increased activity.”

Although government bodies like the military and law enforcement organs received priority, they are apparently receiving less in food distribution this year as well. According to the source, the military is well short of its required annual food rations, and law enforcement agents have received less than half of what they received last year.

“Border military forces have been given time off to go home and collect food to bring back. There were soldiers all over the fields in October, and I heard many people expressing pity about the situation,” she said.

Soldiers (circled in yellow) picking corn in the border region of North Hamgyong Province.
Military officers circled in green can be seen observing the soldiers. Image: Daily NK

A separate source in the region described how officers in Ryanggang Province are “giving soldiers 2 to 3 months leave to gather food. Even small private plots near military installations have performed poorly, so some officers are sending their families to sell their livestock in the market.”

“The wives are also taking soap, shoes, and other emergency supplies held by their husbands (military officers) to sell in the rural markets,” he added.

“The officers know better than anyone that they must feed their soldiers in order to maintain morale, and that rations of cornmeal with very few calories only serve to instill disillusionment among them.”

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.