North Korean farmers who lost land to the state find new ways to farm

North Korean residents who had small plots of land on mountains confiscated under the Kim Jong Un regime’s reforestation policy have been making deals with collective farm officials to receive new plots to grow food.
“People who had their land confiscated by the government so trees could be replanted have found a new way to grow their own food,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on May 28. “They are making deals directly with collective farms for land to plant and harvest crops.”
The collective farms have set up a system where they provide land to farmers they know well and require them to return a percentage of the harvest to the farms, reported the source. But the system does not favor the farmers; the farms receive 70% of the harvest, with the farmers taking home the remainder.
The collective farms set the proportion they receive higher than what they would normally receive under standard arrangements.
The system is in line with the North Korean state’s customary treatment of farmers. North Korea promised to guarantee farmers their fair share of the harvest through the June 28 Measures (the 6.28 Policy on Agriculture) in 2012. The authorities aimed to improve the work ethic of the farmers, but deliberately set high production goals. The production rate ultimately increased, but the share the farmers took home was smaller than what was given to the state.
North Korean farmers do not openly object to such an unfair system, with many perceiving it to be “better than nothing.”
“North Koreans only get 30% of what they harvest, but they believe that’s a lot,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source. “The collective farms take advantage of this perception. They know that farmers have no place to complain about such an unfair system.”
“Farmers who receive land far away from their homes frequently just pack up and move there,” he continued. “They build a hut on the land and live there until Chuseok (mid-autumn thanksgiving holiday) and then return home.”
Another source in North Hamgyong Province reported that North Koreans who live in towns deep in the mountains have had their land confiscated and are eking out a pitiful existence.
“Worried that they will miss out [on getting plots of land], they are busy negotiating with collective farm officials,” he said.
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