Soldiers have been dispatched to the breadbasket region of North Hwanghae Province with orders to collect all rice harvested in the name the military and the capital city of Pyongyang. This is causing anguish amongst farmers who have worked the land only to see the fruits of their labor confiscated.
“Recently, soldiers belonging to the Pyongyang Defense Command (also known as Training Unit 91) were dispatched to cooperative farms in Hwangju County. They are keeping a 24-hour watch over the threshing floor as well as the paddy fields to prevent any rice disappearing,” a Daily NK source in North Hwanghae Province reported on November 11.
“The farmers are lamenting that their hard work has all come to nothing, as the army is poised to take everything away from them. Citing a lack of energy to continue [with the same results], some have declared a resolve to refuse participation in agricultural mobilization next year.”
The North Korean authorities disproportionately provide larger amounts of rice sourced from the breadbasket regions to the citizens of Pyongyang to ensure food security in “the capital of the revolution.” These efforts are seen as deliberate measures to shore up support among the ruling elite.
The army also receives food provisions in a similar way. Critical elements for the security of the regime receive priority for food provision, with little regard for the farmers who grow it.
“The farmers, who are fed up with their exploitation every year, are now working the fields in the daytime and stealing rice at night,” the source said.
“It has become common practice [for farmers] to hide rice during the harvest season. Unlike those in the cities who can make a living in the markets, farmers cannot survive the year if they don’t store enough rice during the fall.”
In North Korea, the theft of grain warrants severe punishment under the law. Particularly in the autumn, task forces are dispatched to monitor the movement of rice and corn harvested from collective farms and residents’ personal plots. But the crackdowns are often carried out as little more than a formality, as residents face increasing hardships.
“The leaders of collective farm units are advising the residents to steal while the rice is still out in the paddies, condemning those who refuse to do so as ‘fools’ because they cannot guarantee food supplies in the future,” another source in the same province reported.
“Even the Ministry of People’s Security (police) and State Security Department personnel secretly encourage people to pick crops from the field and take them home, while publicly stating that severe legal repercussions await those who do so.”