Control of the Jangmadangs Starting September 1

[imText1]It had been reported that North Korea refused to receive “emergency aid” from the international society and requested for “development reconstruction aid”. It was also reported that it requested for withdrawal of the WFP Pyongyang office along with other monitoring officials for food distribution.

Yet North Korea is planning to adopt a new food distribution system starting October 1. There are still some disputes on the method of distribution, whether North Korea will sell the food adopting state monopoly of rice market or not. One thing clear is that for North Korea to adopt such a system, it must have sufficient amount of food to distribute.

However, North Korea experts consider this system impossibility. They also wonder about why North Korean governments suddenly decided to pursue the system. The DilayNK editor Kwak Dae Jung conducted interviews with the two correspondents reporting on North Korea currently active in Sino-Korean border. The correspondents used pseudo names.

Following is the online interview conducted on September 9th in full text.

Change in Food Distribution System a Sure Thing

Kwak Dae Jung : There are some disputes about change in the food distribution system. Please tell us in detail what is exactly happening.

Kwon Jeong Hyun : I obtained first testimony about it on August 27th. I was searching for more sources about “Kang Young Se incident” at the time, and I heard a North Korea rice seller taking grains into North Korea complaining that he can no longer do this business. I asked him why and he replied that the state banned rice sales starting September and is buying in rice from individuals in order to sell them to the people. He said the people are happy about but the seller complain.

Kwak : How can there not any outside rumors about the policy until August 27th, which is to be enforced in September?

Kwon : It could be, because the policy was intended to be enforced suddenly. Nobody predicted of the 7.1 Economic Management Measure in 2002 even until two weeks before. Actually the order came down only a day before and the rumor said that the order was only to be opened on the day of July 1.

Kim Young Jin : I only found out about it when Kwon Jeong Hyun reporter called me to inform me. However, I could not believe it since the content was unrealistic. I contacted other sourced, but they were no aware of it either. I told Kwon that the testimony lacks credibility.

Kwon : I checked with the sellers in Shinuiju, but I could not report about it because I could not double check the information with the sellers from other areas. Then DongA Ilbo reported about it beforehand on August 31.

Kwak : The DongA Ilbo report it not about state monopoly on rice sales but rather on “restart of the state food distribution system.”

Kwon : In any case it was a sure thing that there was a change in the government food distribution policy.

Kim : I too thought a change was for sure after reading DongA Ilbo article. I contacted sources inside North Korea. They told me that they heard the party cadres of Musan and Onsung0gun about state sales of rice and ban of rice sales at the farmer’s markets.

Kwak : How come you did not receive any information on it at first?

Kim : (laugh) It was basically so unpractical that I did not believe such thing could be true.

Kwon : Until now I think North Korea cannot be so foolish to carry out such a policy, it makes me wonder.

“We protect South Korea with our Military First Policy”

Kwak : Is there any news on North Korean nuclear?

Kim : Only on superficial level. There are saying like “We have made nuclear weapons”, “Beause Americans think of us easy, we made the nuclear weapons to show off our military first power”, and “We are protecting South Korea with our military first policy.”

Kwak : Was there any news on peaceful use of nuclear or the six party talks?

Kwon : There was no specific talks about it. Only that there are talks about how the Americans possess the most number of nuclear weapons yet it makes a problem out of “our nuclear”. People do not even know about the six party talks currently in a recess.

Kwak : Going back to the food problem, it looks like the NK government feels confident about restarting the state food distribution. How is the internal food situation?

Kwon : Shinuiju is a town pretty well off, so it is not a good example. Even during the food crisis, most of the people who deceased of hunger in Shinuiju were the people from outside of the region, who came all the way to Shinuiju in search for food. Not only Shinuiju city but the people in the Pyongan province region are pretty well off. 10-20% eat pure rice for meal, and about 50% rice with mixed grains. The rest eat grain gruel or some sort of food but they do not starve. The food situation improved compare to 2-3 years ago.

Kim : The Hamkyung province too. There is no one starved to death. Unfortunately, people say those people who must have died are all already dead. They do no die but this does not mean they have enough of food. Starting this July, the price of rice decrease a little bit so the situation is a little better off but it is definitely not sound enough to restart the state food distribution system.

Good Harvest Still Not Enough for Restart of the Food Distribution

Kwak : I heard that they had good harvest last year and expect another good on this year.

Kim : True. However good the harvest may be, it will never be enough for food distribution system. The government of North Korea estimated amount of food shortage about 80-120tons and it seems like 90tons have been sent in as aid. Although the government can manage to obtain the lacking food, that is only “minimum required amount” of food.

The harvest include not only rice and corn but potatoes, millet, wheat, barley and other grains that the state will not be able restart the food distribution like this. Even with the good harvest, they may have to increase food production by 50% in order to produce enough for the food distribution to maintain. Unless there is a successful agriculture revolution, it is impossible.

Kwon : The government called farming “Frontline of the construction of the People’ s economy” and forced people into rice planting, even by prohibiting opening of farmer’s markets” this year. However, it only makes clear the fundamental problem of the North Korean agriculture, such as acidity of farmlands thus limit of increasing food production. Unless there is a dramatic reformation, going back to the food situation of the 80s is impossible.

Kwak : Some people say weather in North Korea is not adequate for rice plantation.

Kim : (laugh) Rice plantation can be good even in upper areas than North Korea such as Manchuria, China. Now, Chinese rice goes into North Korea, but if the individual farming is allowed, North Korea may be able to export rice to China.

Kwak : Give us a conclusion on the change in the food distribution system.

Kim : On September 8, I met a woman from Chungjin who used sell rice. She told me she stopped selling rice staring September because the state prohibited going in and out or rice from China, and not only rice but also munitions. Her testimony matches with the rumors we heard from Hamkyung region. The three regions we have verified out prohibition of rice sales are Chungjin, Musan, and Kyungsung.

However, it has not been verified that the state started to buy in rice from the people. It is not a right time to talk about direction the NK government is enforcing the new policy.

Kwon : Adding up all the information we have gathered until now, such method is a possibility. The North Korean government can restart food distribution to the fully working state owned enterprises and factories, and while it controls rice sales in the farmer’s markets, it can sell rice only through the state food distribution offices or state owned stores. Thus those who work at those factories can receive food from the government but those who do not may have to buy food to eat. It seems like the state is aiming to return to the socialist system in the past.

However, such a measure also contains a serious problem. One is that there is very small number of factories in work and two is that people who do not work at the factories have no way of making a living if the market activities are controlled.