Facing food shortages, North Korea taps rice reserves

Trucks on bridge
A North Korean truck crossing over a bridge in North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

Significant quantities of military rice reserves at a storage facility in Daeosichon, Ryanggang Province, are being trucked out and may be heading to the Samjiyon construction site, Daily NK has learned.  

“Many civilian trucks have been seen loading up rice from the storage facility,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on September 4.

Military rice reserves are overseen by the Workers’ Party of Korea’s 2nd General Bureau, while offices in each county manage the collection and replacement of rice provisions in each facility. North Korea replaces rice stored the previous year with new rice every year in January and February following the harvest season. The previous year’s rice is then distributed to the general population. 

The economic difficulties faced by North Korea may have forced the government’s hand in releasing a large volume of rice reserved for emergency use. North Korean sources have reported that, to date, authorities have released rice to members of the military and government employees. In January, North Korean officials, citing the poor harvest last year, ordered farmers to supply more food, including rice, to the military. 

The storage facility in Unhung County is underground and guarded by armed soldiers, the source said. There are no reports that workers in the “labor zone” in Daeosichon have received any additional rations. 

“Hundreds of tons” may have already been released

Trucks loading the military provisions at the site are reportedly transporting their loads to Samjiyon, Paekam, and Daehongdan counties. Local residents near the facility say that the provisions are most likely heading to the Samjiyon construction site or another military base.  

“There have been dozens of tons of rice being loaded onto trucks everyday, which means hundreds of tons of rice may have already been sent,” said the source. “The rice seems to be going to a construction site.” 

According to the source, the trucks first stop at the entrance to the storage facility, where they are met by armed guards. The rice is then loaded onto the trucks.

“The rice is probably being sent to a construction site or some area of the country desperate for food, given that it’s not the time of the year when the rice is replaced,” a former South Pyongan Province people’s committee official told Daily NK. “In the past, the authorities would release emergency provisions if there was a need for food and then later replace it with fresh rice.” 

The collapse of North Korea’s public distribution system back in the 1990s means that authorities have little else to rely on during emergencies, the former official said. “The emergency provisions are probably going to be used to feed people at a state construction site, perhaps the Samjiyon modernization project, because this is when food shortages are at their height,” he added.

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.