North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an inspection of the Samjiyon Potato Farina Production Factory in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province in October 2018
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an inspection of the Samjiyon Potato Farina Production Factory in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province in October 2018. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Korean households in Ryanggang Province with dependents will be given priority to receive potatoes harvested in the province this year, Daily NK learned on Monday. 

“People’s committees in Hyesan, Pochon County, and Samjiyon County, recently handed down an order to provide families with dependents two-weeks worth of potatoes,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK. 

Ryanggang Province is North Korea’s largest potato producing region, and potatoes are the main source of sustenance for the area at least three to four months of the year. During the potato harvesting season in October, state officials have typically distributed up to one ton of potatoes to households in the province. 

The province classifies households that have non-working parents or households with children as being households with dependents. In effect, this means that most households in the province qualify as recipients of the new distribution scheme.

Daily NK sources reported that 15% of the potatoes produced in the region will go to households, while 35% will be turned over to the state. Potato farms will sell off as many potatoes as needed to pay for next year’s harvest and distribute what remains to farm workers. 

The new distribution scheme, however, requires earmarked potatoes to be transported to recipients by workers and trucks procured by local district offices and factories.

Most of the district offices and factories are far away from potato growing regions of the province. Sources in the province told Daily NK that for all the expenses going into transporting the potatoes, the actual number of potatoes the new scheme will distribute is nominal.

Potatoes are generally cheaper than rice, commanding about 20% of the price that rice does in local markets. Potatoes rationed out by the state generally sell for half the price of regularly-sorted potatoes. Potatoes are not as nutrient-dense as rice, which means that a substantial number of potatoes must be handed out to make any difference in people’s diets. Daily NK sources have also reported that potatoes produced in Ryanggang Province have a lot of moisture and low starch content, meaning that they can only be stored for up to 40 days. 

Some district offices in Hyesan are collecting the fees necessary for transporting the potatoes from inminban (neighborhood watch) units made up of households with dependent family members. Daily NK sources have reported that some district offices have complained about having to pay the costs for transporting the potatoes. It remains a tricky situation, however, because district offices cannot simply ignore the order to pick up potatoes earmarked for the new distribution scheme.  

Some households with dependents have also reportedly refused to take part in the distribution program. One Daily NK source said that some North Koreans in the province are likening the call to pick up the potatoes to “collecting poop” (picking up something undesirable).  

“North Koreans in the province think that getting the potatoes is far too difficult despite the fact the state hands out potatoes only once per year,” the source explained. “People are complaining that officials seem to be asking everyone to pay for transporting something the government should be taking care of itself.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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