After learning that urban dwellers were going to rural towns at night to obtain rice, North Korean authorities in North Hamgyong Province have ordered local officials to intensify their monitoring of nighttime vehicular traffic, Daily NK has learned.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that while the government has long implemented and enforced bans on road-based travel to combat the spread of COVID-19, the authorities ordered stronger controls on movement on Dec. 20 in response to urban dwellers “going to nearby agricultural villages under the cover of night to obtain rice.” 

In fact, though business people have long been sneaking around in their vehicles at night to obtain rice, party and government organs – well aware of North Korea’s terrible food situation – have turned a blind eye to these activities. Members of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security have also refrained from aggressively cracking down on these “rice runs.” 

A picture of Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, taken in February 2018. / Image: Daily NK

“With people unable to earn a living, the homeless are growing and poor people are unable to leave their homes and are starving to death,” said the source. “Officials from the party and government organs, Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security – seeing the state the locals are in – have been quietly turning a blind eye as part of efforts to resolve the food supply problem.”

The country’s military leadership, which has been unable to acquire enough rice to feed its soldiers, had received a report that vehicles laden with rice were moving around agricultural villages. The military then reported the situation to the Central Committee. 

“The government [then] issued an order to intensify controls over the movement of vehicles in North Hamgyong Province and other regions,” the source said. “Vehicles that used to sneak into farm villages have now vanished.” 

North Korean authorities have justified the new crackdown by pointing to COVID-19; however, the source told Daily NK that their real aim is to prevent rice from disappearing into the local community given that the military is unable to completely satisfy its food requirements.

“Facing an extremely difficult situation, locals are reacting to the ban by asking if they are now supposed to sit around and starve to death. It’s a miserable state of affairs now, with people going around in the bitter cold to unplowed fields, collecting the leftover grain,” said the source. “On fields that have been picked through two or three times and even snow-covered fields, poverty-stricken locals are digging in the soil as if they are looking for gold.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to
Read in Korean
Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to