Estimated 10% of Pyongsong families face food shortages

A farmer in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea uses oxen to work the land.
A farmer in North Hamgyong Province uses oxen to work the land. Image: Daily NK file photo

Despite mid-June being the most active period for North Korea’s agricultural season, many North Korean farmers are reportedly unable to work due to chronic food shortages. The subsequent reduction in the number of farmers in the fields is expected to further exacerbate the situation this year.

“There are many families who don’t have enough to eat on the farms in South Pyongan Province,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. “The farmers aren’t showing up, so no work is being done. This will impact the harvest this year, no doubt.”

A growing number of families in North Korea’s agricultural regions lack money and food, which has led to shortages of laborers at cooperative farms. The farms themselves are also unable to provide farmers with meals.

Daily NK reported last month that many North Korean families had given up farm work in the country’s agricultural regions due to the food issue.

Following the rise of impoverished, hungry families, the municipal party committee held a meeting to discuss the issue.

“Authorities in the farming regions of South Pyongan Province are focused on the issue of impoverished families. A meeting was held by the Pyongsong Party Committee and People’s Committee to discuss how to deal with the lack of farmers,” the source said.

“The Municipal Party Committee stated that around 10% of families in the area were impoverished. That’s a lot of people considering that each family is usually made up of about four people.”

In short, officials acknowledge that around 30,000 of the 300,000 people living in Pyongsong are suffering from a lack of food. The North Korean authorities have ordered people’s committees to conduct surveys into the number of impoverished families in each area of the country from March. The authorities appear to be conscious of the severity of the situation.

However, clear measures to resolve the food shortages were not discussed, according to a separate source in South Pyongan Province.

“Plans to provide rice or cash to those mobilized for farm work from local enterprises were discussed, but no clear measures to support the mobilization of people into the fields with rice from local enterprises were taken,”she said.

The North Korean authorities have shown clear concern over the fall in farm production given the lack of farm labor, but appear more interested in having local enterprises use their own resources to support farmers rather than have the government step in to help.

“There are many families in the agricultural region that cannot even afford corn noodle soup and are surviving on a single meal per day,” the source continued.

“Pyongsong is suffering, but I imagine other areas are suffering even more […] The situation isn’t as bad as the Arduous March [famine of the 1990s] period, but similar things are happening.”