farm, pesticides
A photo of North Korean farmers spraying pesticides published by North Korean media on May 5, 2022. People beating drums and yelling out slogans can be seen in the background. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

Not long ago, I happened to visit a farming village in Icheon, an area in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. There was a touching beauty to the rural landscape in May as the fields and paddies began to grow lush with grain. As spring drew to a close, I expected Korean farmers to be busy, but the atmosphere on the farm was calm and relaxed.

The young rice seedlings were carefully transferred to a rice transplanting machine, which quietly planted them in the rice fields instead of human labor. As advances in information technology are applied to rural lifestyles, the rural landscape shows how easy and convenient farming has become.

I saw farmers grinning in anticipation of a bountiful harvest as automated tractors and cultivators worked their fields and paddies. I could see the serenity in the wrinkled face of a farmer as she loaded seedlings onto her cultivator and headed to the paddy field.

This was in stark contrast to what I saw on North Korean farms. North Korean farmers face one stress after another: rows of red flags planted in the ground, propaganda slogans like “Loyalty is the key to a bumper harvest,” checkpoints at the entrance to farms on major roads, enforcers with armbands, and trucks with loudspeakers, just one more source of irritation for hardworking farmers.

Eight pedestrian checkpoints have been set up along the highway between Pyongsong and Sunchon, South Pyongan Province, to ensure that workers do not skip out on their duties during the sapling transplanting campaign. With orders from the top to set up checkpoints not only on main roads but also on side streets, the farmers may soon be outnumbered by the enforcers.

The difference between night and day that I experienced on farms in South and North Korea in May is very painful for me to contemplate. How different and how brutal are the scenes on North Korean farms where workers are cajoled, herded and coerced – all forms of labor exploitation!

Every year, the Workers’ Party of Korea describes its forced mobilization of workers to support the farms as a “breakthrough” that will solve the food shortage. But after 50 years of these harsh mobilization orders dating back to the 1970s, the food shortage remains unresolved. Instead, North Koreans are becoming more nervous and tired, and a significant number are on the verge of starvation. This shows the historical fact that mass mobilizations and compulsory loyalty will never be able to solve the food problem.

If the Workers’ Party of Korea truly values the welfare and happiness of the people, it should open up the market and create conditions for the people to provide enough food for themselves through free economic activity.

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