A picture of a collective farm in South Hwanghae Province taken in 2009 (Flickr, Creative Commons)

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun recently claimed that the country had completed rice transplanting on time despite an unprecedented drought and the “maximum emergency anti-epidemic situation.” However, some regions reportedly made false reports to Pyongyang out of fear of punishment. 

According to a Daily NK source in South Pyongan Province, the North Korean Cabinet’s Agricultural Commission recently ordered each province to send regular reports so that it could analyze the state of the nationwide “rice transplanting struggle.”

The commission also implored officials to finish the rice transplanting by June 15. Outwardly, the order appeared aimed at ascertaining the situation and encourage officials to complete the rice transplanting by the deadline. In reality, the order amounted to a threat that officials would face severe punishment if they did not complete their “mission” on time.

Naturally, provinces felt the pressure, and there were places that decided — after long discussions — to report that they had completed rice transplanting, even if this was not completely true. 

For example, South Pyongan Province reported to Pyongyang on June 9 that it had completed its rice transplanting activities. Internally, provincial authorities believed this would present no problems since the rice transplanting would take just five or so more days from the time the report was sent up the line.

However, the situation on the ground was much worse than they thought. Faced with the sudden order to complete rice transplanting in just five days, farmers in the province’s Mundok County, Sukchon County and Pyongwon County had no choice but to plant rice by torchlight at night.

“They were told to finish by June 15, but there are places that have yet to finish rice transplanting,” said the source. “How are they supposed to finish so quickly when water, labor and even oil are in short supply?”

Earlier this year, North Korean authorities supplied South Pyongan Province — North Korea’s biggest breadbasket after South Hwanghae Province — with 100 rice planting machines as an “act of consideration from the party and a special measure from the Emergency Anti-epidemic Command.” However, farmers have been unable to use them with the increase in oil prices. 

The source said North Korean authorities have responded to the provincial reports by underscoring that the autumn harvest would demonstrate “whether officials conscientiously carried out the rice transplanting or not,” and that they would review the performance of local officials at harvest time. They also threatened punishments of those who failed to achieve this year’s grain production targets.

The source said the South Pyongan Province government pleaded to the authorities for help, complaining that if the state “fails to ensure the supply of electricity, we will face trouble watering the fields and have small crop yields.” 

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.