Government rabbit husbandry mandate evokes memories of North Korean famine

Chongjin Rabbit Breeding Stock Farm
Chongjin Rabbit Breeding Stock Farm. Image: Rodong Sinmun

The North Korean authorities are telling residents to turn the raising of “animals that eat grass” into a nationwide movement. Residents, however, are allegedly unhappy with the re-emergence of this state policy.

“The authorities encouraged people to raise grass-fed animals after the end of the Arduous March (the mass famine of the 1990s) and told everyone to raise rabbits. Now they are telling people to do it again,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK.

“A lot of people are complaining because rabbits eat up so much of the grass on the mountains and fields.”

In the past, those ordered by the authorities to raise rabbits found that the animals show a particular fondness for the leaves of young acacia trees.

“The trees look strange, the source said. “Almost as if their leaves have fallen during the winter, the source said. Some North Koreans have questioned whether the policies encouraged by the authorities are leading to a decline in the health of the trees.

For their part, the authorities are encouraging residents to raise more livestock as part of government plans to resolve their “food problems” through self-sufficient means and bring about economic growth. The announcements mirror past efforts to raise rabbits during the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il eras to encourage self-sufficiency among the people as the country’s economy faltered due to chronic mismanagement.

On June 1, the Rodong Sinmun ran an article entitled “The Entire Nation [Must Raise] Livestock.” The article argues that the “Party’s policy to raise more livestock across the entire country is justified to meet the people’s demand for livestock-related products in a short time and using all the resources available.”

Another article in the publication on June 7 published remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that went, “[We must] start a national movement to raise grass-fed animals at home and develop collective raising of livestock at collective farms and the individual raising of livestock at home. We must create a craze for livestock throughout the country.”

The article goes on to say that the “Party will adhere to the policy aimed at increasing the number of grass-fed animals to ensure the development of our country’s livestock industry.”

The Rodong Sinmun has placed particular emphasis on the raising of rabbits. A “Commentary” published on April 2 entitled “Let’s Transform the Livestock Industry” called on North Koreans to “raise a lot of grass-fed animals at home” and that “It is very important for the people to take part in the nationwide movement to raise rabbits.”

An article in the same publication published on March 21 entitled “Enthusiastically Creating a National Movement” connected the raising of rabbits with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s legacies. “Raising rabbits is not just a simple way to improve the economy; it is an important way to responsibly follow the legacies of the Great Suryong (Supreme Leader) and Great General,” the paper states.

However, many North Koreans do not support the government’s efforts to increase the number of rabbits in the country, because it requires the planting of grass for the rabbits on land normally used for their own crops.

“People have to plant grass for rabbits to eat on their land. This is to ensure they meet the quotas for rabbits set by the authorities. They are saying that the state is being extremely arrogant,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“There’s a relatively large amount of grass available in the mountainous regions of the country so people there can manage alright. The authorities, however, are demanding that people in flatter, and less grassy areas raise the same number of rabbits as other areas.”

“The plains of North Korea’s west coast don’t have many mountains and most of the mountains there don’t have trees. There’s very little grass on the plains in the region, so people living there will have difficulty meeting the demands of the government to raise rabbits,” Cho Chong Hee, a researcher at Good Farmers and an expert on North Korean livestock, told Daily NK.

“Governments have to implement their policies to match regional and environment conditions. In North Korea, however, the government tends to unilaterally force its people to follow a single policy nationwide, so it’s natural that many North Koreans are unhappy with it.”

Cho also told Daily NK that rabbit rearing was emphasized by the state when North Korea faced enormous difficulties during Kim Il Sung’s rule in the early 1960s.

“After that, people were told to raise rabbits again in the 1990s during the famine,” she said. “That North Korean officials are again emphasizing rabbit-raising suggests that their economy is facing a lot of difficulties.”

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