On the 22nd, North Korea handed down a ‘farming support battle mass mobilization order’ in the name of the Supreme Command of the Chosun People’s Army. The order commands the military to take the lead in the battle to increase food production.
At the same time, Rodong Shinmun ramped up the propaganda side on the 21st, publishing a couple of articles on agricultural topics including one about Yeokpyeong Cooperative Farm in Huicheon, Jagang Province entitled, ‘There Is Nothing You Cannot Do as Long as You Are Determined’.
However, sources in North Hamkyung Province confirm that neither the propaganda nor the orders from above reflect the difficult reality on the ground during the annual ‘spring hardship period’ which last until the early part of May. In effect, the North Korean authorities are calling for mass mobilization to secure the nation’s food supplies without ensuring food for those being mobilized.
According to one, “The spinach which we prepared for soup is already gone. There are now ‘side dish support teams’ out looking for wild plants and herbs for side dishes.”
To try and solve this problem in situ, anyone who is able to offer 50kg of rice or equivalent is handed a month of vacation time during the farm support period. If rations amount to 600g per day then a single worker will go through 24kg of rice or corn over the course of the 40-day mobilization period; thus, giving 50kg means taking responsibility for feeding two other people, and this is enough to get an exemption from labor for oneself.
However, when those able to give food and those out collecting food from the mountainsides are combined, it means half the people who are meant to be supporting the farming work are not doing so directly. Not only that; according to the source, “The people left behind on the farms are in a lifeless state, so it’s pretty hard to get any work done.” They are very cynical, too, reportedly pointing out that they will gain strength by eating corn, not by yelling slogans.
Given that there are also cases of support workers stealing from nearby farmhouses, local people are said to be waiting for the day when the support workers will be allowed to leave.
Official controls have also been heightened for the support period. Weddings, funeral and ancestral rites are prohibited, and there is no travel permit issuance going on either. In addition, only immediate family members of deceased persons may move around locally.