North Korea has announced that only people who have fulfilled their manure quota will be permitted to enter markets, Daily NK has learned. 

This comes as the authorities make securing supplies of manure the country’s first “struggle” of 2022.

Much as South Korea has instituted “quarantine passes” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by verifying residents’ vaccination status, North Korea is essentially pressuring people to fulfill their quota with a sort of “manure pass.”

According to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province, the Central Committee has ordered that markets in the province shorten their operating time by an hour through Jan. 10. The order aims to give people an extra hour to produce manure. While markets used to operate from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon, they now operate from 3:00 to 5:00.

Moreover, while market operating hours will return to normal from Jan. 11, when the “battle for manure” ends, only people carrying confirmation that they fulfilled their manure quota will be allowed in, as per orders from the authorities.

The move suggests North Korea is doing its utmost to produce manure, a substitute for fertilizer needed for farming, from the start of the year.

This comes after the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee late last year designated solving the nation’s food problem as the “top task” for achieving rural development.

Street market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province rice sellers dollar rate
In this undated photograph, North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang Province / Image: Daily NK

That is to say, with the border closed due to COVID-19 quarantine efforts, the authorities believe it necessary to substitute wheat for white rice as the people’s staple, and that securing manure supplies is essential to boosting agricultural production by an additional ton per approximately 10,000 square meters (jongbo) of farmland.

However, local residents find the manure quotas, shortened market hours, and now restricted market access all very burdensome.

In South Korea, debate rages whether quarantine passes violate freedom of choice, a basic right. In North Korea, the perception is spreading that the “manure passes” violate the people’s right to survival.

A resident of Hyesan contacted by Daily NK said she is already unable to engage in much market activity as she is too busy trying to fulfil the manure quota, and it makes her angry to think she will be unable to sit at her stall from Jan. 11.

“Kim” — a merchant selling bean sprouts to make ends meet — finds himself in the same boat. He has been unable to earn a single penny since the New Year due to the manure quota. Unable to earn money, he has been eating bean sprout soup to survive.

Nonetheless, nobody can call for an end to the manure pass scheme. People know that they cannot object to an order from the Central Committee.

However, some locals are setting up shop in areas and alleyways near the markets regardless of the government’s measures, readily engaging in fights with enforcement agents.

The source said the market is a space that determines the people’s survival, and because of this, locals say they cannot tell whether the authorities are telling them to live or to die with their market controls.

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