It has been reported that many farmers are leaving rural agricultural areas and moving into North Korea’s cities. As poverty hits the countryside, job opportunities in the cities are causing the influx.
Mr. Lee, a North Korean resident in his 50s, previously worked at a state-run farm in North Pyongan Province all his life. He recently left his hometown due to a feeling of hopelessness arising from limited opportunities and ongoing malnourishment issues, a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on July 26.
“Residents living in the rural areas began to leave for the cities from a few years ago, and this trend has been rapidly increasing. In Jongju County, more than half of the young men have left their hometowns to find work elsewhere to feed their families,” he said.
“Young women are also leaving for the cities to make money, and the local authorities appear unable to stem the tide.”
As news of farmers earning considerable amounts of money in the cities began to spread, those remaining in the rural areas have taken heed.
“Hearing about other people they knew making money in the cities and living in newly-built cement houses instead of the standard ochre houses, previously stubborn rural residents began to change their minds about moving to the city. In North Korea, you can earn more working on construction sites for a month in the city than what can be earned on a farm for a year. This is causing an increasing number of farmers to migrate in search of work,” the source noted.
Further driving the decisions is the fact that grievances about the rigid structure of state-run farms are rampant. State-run farms, unlike factory enterprises in the cities, do not permit farmers to engage in market activity. Under specific orders to follow strict schedules at all times, farmers are obliged to participate in collective farming beginning in the spring. This is reportedly a major driving force behind the poor quality of life experienced by many farmers.
“The volume of rice harvested by the Jongju County farm is less than half of the anticipated supply, and most of it is sent to the army as there are many soldiers stationed in North Pyongan Province. Residents in this region, who cannot engage in market activities like those in the cities, cannot escape from the cycle of poverty however hard they try,” the source said.
Widespread corruption amongst local officials is also playing its part. Local residents are exasperated with the corrupt actions of the officials, but as they cannot openly express their feelings, they instead show it by leaving the region.
“Recently, the Party Chairman of Jongju County was seen to have considerable stockpiles of drying rice on a mat of reeds in his front garden. The residents complained that, ‘If we follow orders from the state, it only serves to make the officials richer, and farmers like us can’t even afford to eat beancurd sediment,'” a separate source in North Pyongan Province said.
The increasing migration into North Korea’s cities highlights emerging cracks in the regime’s ability to prevent freedom of movement and choice of occupation.
Both sources reported that as potato production has dropped due to the serious drought, the number of farmers moving to the cities to work has increased dramatically.