The North Korean authorities have recently handed down an order to de facto privately-run restaurants to contribute one ton of rice to the state.
“An order was handed down in early January to some restaurants in major cities to contribute a ton of rice to the government,” said a source in North Pyongan Province. “It’s an outrageous demand and the restaurants are incensed by it.”
The order was exclusively handed down to restaurants that are run by private individuals, though such ventures are really more representative of a public-private partnership.
“The most important thing to restaurants is rice, and they’re complaining that the order has made their operations difficult,” she said.
According to a separate source in South Pyongan Province, one restaurant owner whose establishment caters primarily to laborers reportedly had to borrow rice from those he knew to meet the government’s demand. He managed to save his restaurant from closing down, but is now in debt.
Most restaurants run by private individuals are facing significant difficulties due to the government’s order, according to the sources.
One kilogram of rice sells for around 4,680 KPW in Sinuiju. Based on this price, it’s estimated that one ton of rice costs the equivalent of approximately 500 USD at the going currency rate in the area, an enormous sum for the majority of North Koreans.
“There has been a rise in the number of restaurants opened by private individuals over the past several years,” a defector well-versed in current events in North Korea told Daily NK, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisal against his family still in the North.
“North Korean authorities see these establishments as easy targets to collect fees or ‘taxes,’ which provides some context to the recent order.”
Daily NK recently reported that a worker in North Pyongan Province who had gained Party membership due to a recommendation from his workplace had been ordered to “contribute a ton of rice” to the government. The order was handed down by a managing secretary of the party at a gathering for newly-ordained party members.
Amidst continued efforts by the state to mobilize North Korea’s citizens to finish state projects, it appears likely that similar demands by the government will continue for the foreseeable future.