North Korea recently distributed special food reserves to people in Musan County, Daily NK has learned, with much of it going to workers at Musan Mine, the country’s largest iron ore mine.

“When rations of newly harvested potatoes ended in June, the military supplies related department in [Musan County’s] people’s committee approved the distribution of food stored in a local No. 2 warehouse,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday. A “No. 2 warehouse” stores food reserved for times of war. 

“Food is being taken out of the warehouse, which is located in Golan [in the Jucho District of Musan County] once or twice every day,” he added.  

This food is being used to provide rations to people working at businesses in Musan County. The source also said that “normal levels of rations” are expected to be provided to workers at Musan Mine until October.

What the report suggests is that Musan Mine workers and their dependents have already been provided with three months’ worth of rations; however, the miners will only receive enough rations to feed themselves over the next two months.

The warehouse’s rice, which is typically “old” rice from past harvests, is replaced once every three years. The source’s report suggests, however, that the rice has been made available to members of the public despite the fact that the rice was not set to be replaced this year. 

Local authorities reportedly said that they plan to refill the warehouse with grain harvested this year. 

North Korea’s economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic can likely explain the release of such food reserves.

“People have been struggling since the beginning of the year because of the virus and, on top of that, the lack of food from early May has created difficulties for families,” the source said. “I understand that the central government gave permission to provincial governments to [release the food reserves].”

The authorities also seem to have aimed to “normalize” operations at Musan Mine, which has witnessed a significant decrease in production. According to the source, the release of the food reserves has taken into account the fact there has been an increasing number of workers who have avoided coming to work because they have not received proper salaries.  

“Some workers [in the county] who have been engaged in 8.3 Earnings are shifting back to full-time work with the belief they will be able to receive rations for the next six months,” the source said.

“8.3 Earnings” permits workers to pay a specified fee each month to their place of employment in exchange for allowing them to skip work and engage in their own private business activities.

Daily NK’s source also reported that the release of the food reserves is having an impact on local market commodity prices. 

“The price of one kilogram of rice has fallen by KPW 400 to KPW 500 since the beginning of last month when the distribution of the food reserves began, and now sits at around KPW 4,000,” the source said, adding, however, that “the price of corn has spiked by about KPW 300 compared to last month.”

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