A corn field (left) during last year’s poor harvest, and an empty corn storage
shed immediately after the harvest period (right). Image: Daily NK
Sources in North Korea have reported that conflicts have recently been breaking out between authorities and residents in drought-hit regions due to continued demands for food and bribes. Despite these regions experiencing a poor harvest last year, the authorities are still widely demanding bribes and food for military provisions.
“We are suffering because collective farms in our region did not have a good harvest last year and so we were unable to fulfill the mandatory quota for military provisions. All individuals who weren’t able to meet the demands have been receiving additional assignments since the very beginning of January,” a source in South Hamgyong Province reported to Daily NK on January 16.
According to the source, some farms in the past gave individuals one month of leave to earn money for the purchase of farm equipment or fertilizer. This year, however, the money is being used to procure food and other items for military use.
“This year, we have to postpone our farm work due to this ‘extremely urgent’ task of gathering food for the military,” the source said.
A source in Ryanggang Province confirmed the report, saying, “Last year, most of this region, including the Taehongdan, Pochon, Samjiyon, and Paekam areas, were not able to meet their military provision quotas. These demands are pushing people to their wits’ end.”
“Sometime in spring, the collective farms that are behind on their quotas will have some of their constituents provide frozen potatoes, which are processed by peeling and drying before presentation to the authorities. But many also call the season the ‘time when thieves (in this case, the farm authorities) rear their ugly heads,'” he added.
Tactics employed by collective farm authorities have been particularly ruthless in some regions, with officials at times completely ransacking homes in order to collect every last grain of food. This has become a source of conflict.
Sources say that residents are not surprised by the collection order itself since they are familiar with the annual demands to provide food for the military, but that it is a new tactic for authorities to go as far as ransacking their homes to collect food.
It is believed that the latest tactics are due to last year’s poor harvest, with collective farms and individual plots alike unable to meet their quotas. Some households experiencing extreme food shortages have consumed the frozen potatoes that were intended for offering to the central authorities. This has in turn caused collective farm authorities to carry out extensive searches of homes, leading to confrontations.
“Officials carried out home searches in Paekam County (Ryanggang Province) to determine how much food some families had. As an excuse to enter and demand bribes, they said to the residents, ‘Are we just going to let our military starve while the Americans lick their lips and prepare to eat us alive?'” a separate source in Ryanggang Province said.
In the past, the North Korean authorities adjusted military provision quotas for residents based on harvest results each year. But circumstances have now changed, and the demands on residents continue to increase despite the impossibility of meeting quotas. Residents are now facing mounting difficulties from all sides, and will also have to prepare for the next season on top of trying to meet the quotas of the previous season.