North Korean food shortage to grow, crimes of necessity on the rise

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 09-11-02-1
11/2/2009

The North Korean agricultural ministry has announced that the countries food shortages are expected to be even greater next year. Edition 302 of the newsletter “North Korea Today,” distributed by the group Good Friends, reports that the Ministry of Agriculture announced harvest predictions for farms in North and South Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces, North Korea’s ‘ricebowl region’. It stated that if the country was to avoid a food crisis next year, everyone would need to strictly manage this year’s crops. It was also reported that the central party authorities in North Korea, after receiving the report, called for the opening of all customs houses in the border region and for trading companies to seek new avenues for trade. An order was passed down to “relentlessly trade with the outside in order to bring in much food.”

With food shortages this year and last, and now news that there will be food problems next year as well, it is rumored that there is a growing number of angry people in the normally mild-mannered Hwanghae Province. In addition, this is driving a growing number of people to turn to crime in order to put food on the table. On October 26, Free North Korea Radio quoted a source as stating, “As rumors spread across North Korea that large-scale famine, the likes of which were seen in the mid-1990s, will again sweep through country next year, anxiety is shooting up among the people and crimes of necessity are on the rise.”

According to the source, “Crimes of necessity, like pillaging granaries on farms, are spreading like never before as people act quickly to ensure food supplies,” and, “Fighting has grown fierce between people trying to maintain their standard of living.” Furthermore, “The number of people in the Dancheon region of South Hamgyeong Province just ‘sitting down and starving to death’ is exploding,” and, “Not long ago, there was even one incident of and armed soldier guarding a threshing floor of one farm being attacked by a gang of thieves.”

The source explained, “People are well aware that this year yielded poor harvests, but that they cannot rely on aid from the international community because of the Kim Jong Il regime’s indiscriminant pursuit of nuclear development.” The source also added, “These days, people are rationalizing illegal activities in the belief that ‘you can rely on no one but yourself.’”

It was also reported that in Hyesan, Hyeryeong, Onseong and Musan, most food prices are at higher levels than what are usually seen in the spring, despite the fact that it is now fall harvest season. According to Free North Korea Radio, October 23rd prices of rice, flour and corn in Hyesan, Hyeryeong, Onseong, and Musan were as follows: Hyesan, rice = 2,550-2,750 won/1 kg, flour = 2,400-2,600 won/1 kg, corn = 850-900 won/1 kg; Hyeryeong, rice = 2,500-2,800 won/ 1 kg, flour = 2,400-2,700 won/ 1 kg, corn = 800-1,000 won/1 kg; Onseong, rice = 2,450-2,600 won/ 1 kg, flour = 2,500-2,700 won/1 kg, corn = 700-900 won/1 kg; Musan, rice = 2,500-2,700 won/1 kg, flour = 2,400-2,600 won/1 kg, corn = 850-1,000 won/1 kg

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