Food situation worsening in South Pyongan Province: Government officials failing to receive rations

Ministry of State Security unit in the border region
Ministry of State Security unit in the border region. Image: Daily NK

Serious problems appear to be impacting North Korea’s food supplies in South Pyongan Province given that even members of the government – usually the first to receive food rations – have been unable to receive them, causing many government officials to stop working altogether.

“Officials working for provincial party committees and offices in the cities and counties, along with those working in police and prosecutor’s offices, have been unable to receive regular food rations. This has led to a situation where less than 70% of government officials are actually coming to work – the first time this has ever happened,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on March 10.

“If the provincial party committees, which are the most powerful organs within the provinces, along with the provincial Ministry of State Security (MSS) offices and police offices aren’t receiving proper food rations, this can only mean that other government agencies are much worse off,” said the source. “Up until last year, teachers and doctors received some of the rations they were owed, but this year they have failed to receive anything.”

The government institutions that support the regime’s grip on power, i.e. the Party Committees, MSS, Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) and prosecutor’s offices, receive sporadic food rations from the central government, and workers at these organizations have traditionally been viewed as living at a higher standard than regular North Koreans. That these agencies are failing to receive rations, however, implies that North Korea’s food situation is particularly severe.

Members of the provincial party committee in South Pyongan Province received unpolished barley last year that was only 80% of what they were supposed to have received, while their family members only received 50% of their share, the source reported.

Members of the provincial security agency only received 80% of their barley rations while their families only received 30% of their corn. Members of the provincial police agency experienced an even worse situation: they received only 60% of the corn they were supposed to receive per month, while their family members received absolutely nothing.

Last year, county party committees in grain producing areas of South Pyongan Province like Mundok, Sukchon, Anju, Pyongwon, and Kaechon received only 50% of what they were supposed to receive for the year. Those officials located in mountainous areas at the center of the province and in the northern part of the province received only 10% of their rations.

North Korean farmers in August 2018 in North Hwanghae Province attempt to prevent drought damage
North Korean farmers in August 2018 in North Hwanghae Province attempt to prevent drought damage. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Recently, government officials affiliated with these organizations have taken it upon themselves to bring the “ration cards” issued by their local People’s Committee Food Distribution Departments to farms in an attempt to obtain more food, despite the fact that, in principle, they are only allowed to take food from specially-designated ration distribution centers.

Most farms, however, have no extra food and are unable to process the ration cards that the officials bring with them, according to a separate source in South Pyongan Province. Despite the considerable authority that being a government official affords them, even they sometimes fail to receive what they came for because there just isn’t food available – although farms do typically try to give the officials something out of fear of retribution.

“Farm officials are in a difficult situation because they’ll face a great deal of trouble if they don’t give the amount of food that is stated on the ration cards,” the source said. “That police stations and even the MSS can’t receive food rations means that farms just don’t have anything left.”

North Korea recently requested aid from a UN food agency due to shortages in the country. An American news agency also published the content of a letter written by North Korea’s UN representative, Kim Song, requesting emergency food aid.

Ambassador Kim argued in the letter that natural disasters such as droughts and intense heat along with international sanctions restricting the supply of farming materials were the main reasons for the country’s decline in food production. The letter further argued that these difficulties had led to a reduction in the amount of rations provided to the families of workers in January 2019 from 550 g to 300 g per day.

Given that North Korea’s request for food aid came right before the second US-North Korean summit, some observers noted that it appears to have been a “negotiation tactic aimed at lifting the sanctions.” Others, however, claim that it was a rare instance in which North Korean officials acknowledged to the international community that the country is facing a dire food situation.

Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to