North Korea attempting to revive the food ration system

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-7-11

North Korea is attempting to restart its halted food distribution system. In March, military food provisions were released to the public and food distribution is reported to have resumed on a biweekly basis. The provision of food rations for more than three consecutive months is a rare occurrence.

A North Korean defector organization in South Korea, NK Intellectuals Solidarity, released the following information in their information briefing session: “From June 1, it was confirmed that residents in border cities and towns received food distribution every 15 days, about 470 grams per person a day.”

The foods distributed were mainly from Warehouse No. 2, stockpiled as military food provisions. It is unclear how long the food distribution will last but North Korea appears to be straining itself to revive the food distribution system in order to resolve the food shortage problem.

According to Radio Free Asia, the North Korean government has begun to reissue food stamps, with residents in North Hamgyong Province having confirmed recently the receipt of such stamps.

North Korean economic policy has focused mainly on the agricultural sector and food supply. There appears to be gradual improvement. The price of 1 kg of rice in January was about 6,600 KPW in Pyongyang and by June it dropped to 5,000 KPW. The price of rice is reported to have dropped in other cities such as Sinuiju and Haesan by as much as 1,000 KPW.

However, a South Korean official commented that the food distribution is not equal nationwide, as some regions are left without food rations. He added, “Unless North Korea is able to secure sufficient supply of food, it will be difficult to revive the food distribution system of the past.”

Meanwhile, some have testified that North Korea is leasing farm lands to urban workers in cooperative farms as a means to resolve the food crisis.

Citing an unnamed source in North Korea, NK Intellectuals Solidarity stated that “state-owned collective farm lands are being leased to city workers,” explaining this as a measure to overcome the current food situation as work in factories in the cities also has declined.

NK Intellectuals Solidarity explained that farm lands are being leased on an annual basis and workers in various state factories and enterprises are receiving about 250 pyong (826.4 square meters) of land per employee.

Employees must allocate a portion of their harvest to the state (100g of corn and 50g of beans per pyong (3.3 square meters) and the total yield of harvest will be counted as the total production output of the farm. The expectation is that this method of leasing land of cooperative farms will resolve the food shortages in the cities and improve the food supply of the entire nation.

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