Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

Is North Korea’s food situation really getting worse? The markets don’t think so.

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Since early 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has been sounding the alarm bells on North Korea’s food situation. In an interview a few weeks ago with Voice of America’s Korean-language edition, FAO-official Christina Cosiet said that this years’ harvest would be the worst one in four years. One question, dealt with before by this blog, is how bad this really is. After all, the past few years seem to have been abnormally good in a long-run perspective.

But another obvious question is: why do market prices in North Korea tell the opposite story about food supply?

Prices for both rice and foreign currency (US-dollars) have remained remarkably stable for a situation where people should be expecting a worse-than-usual harvest. It is important to bear in mind that prices are largely seasonal and tend to increase in September and October. But unless prices somehow skyrocket in a couple of months, things do not look that bad.

There seem to be two possibilities here: either official production and food supply through the public distribution system simply does not matter that much, because shortages are easily offset by private production and/or imports. Or, the FAO projections simply do not capture North Korean food production as a whole.

For an overview of food prices in the last few years, consider the following graph (click here for larger version):

graph1

Graph 1: Prices for rice and foreign currency, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices.

As this graph shows, both the exchange rate and rice prices have remained relatively stabile over the past few years. Thus far, this summer has been no exception. The following graph shows exchange rates and rice prices from the spring of 2015 till July 2016 (click here for larger version):

graph2

Graph 2: Prices for rice and foreign currency, April 2015–July 2016, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices

This does not look like the behavior of a nervous market where supply is declining at a drastic rate. Of course, a number of caveats are in order: again, prices are likely to rise through September and October, as they have in the past. Moreover, markets may react to any harvest declines at a later point in time, as they become more apparent.

Even so, it seems inconceivable that market prices would remain so stable if North Korea was experiencing a steep dive in food production. After all, farmers would be able to see signs fairly early on, and their information would presumably spread through the market as a whole. In short, it is logically unthinkable that markets simply would not react to an unusually poor harvest.

This all begs the question of how much market prices tend to correlate with the FAO:s harvest figures overall. The short answer appears to be: not much. The graph below (click here for larger version) shows the average prices for rice and foreign exchange per year on the North Korean market since 2011, and harvest figures drawn from reports by the FAO and the World Food Program (WFP). (See the end of this post for a more detailed explanation of the underlying calculations.)*

graph3

Graph 3: Yearly average market prices for rice and US-dollar (in North Korean won), and FAO food production figures. Data source: DailyNK market prices

As this graph shows, there is generally fairly little correlation between market prices and harvests as calculated by the FAO. Harvests climbed between 2009 and 2015, while market prices climbed and and flattened out from 2012, around the time of Kim Jong-il’s death. Exchange rates and rice prices unsurprisingly move in tandem, but appear little impacted by production figures as reported by the FAO.

It is possible that prices react in a delayed manner to harvests, and that the price stabilization on the market is a result of increased harvests over time. But the consistent trend over several years, with prices going up as harvest figures do, is an unlikely one. Again, it is also difficult to imagine market prices not reacting relatively quickly to noticeable decreases in food production.

So what does all this mean?

It is difficult to draw any certain conclusions. But at the very least, these numbers suggest that the FAO food production projections are not telling the full story about overall food supply in North Korea. Moreover, market signals are telling us that food supply right now is far from as bad as the FAO’s latest claims of lowered production would have it. Rather, prices seem normal and even slightly more stabile than in some previous years with better harvests. In short, the narrative that this year’s harvest is exceptionally poor seems an unlikely one.

 

*A note on graph 3:

 For market prices per year, I calculated an average price from all observations in a given year. The DailyNK price data is reported for three cities separately: Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. I have used an average of these three cities for each data observation as the base for calculating yearly averages. This is a somewhat tricky way of measuring, as the amount of data observations, as well as their timing, sometimes varies from year to year. The steep decline in 2009–2010 is primarily caused by the currency denomination, and should not be taken for a real increase in supply.

The FAO food production figures are not reported by calendar year, but published in the fall and projected for the following year. Since these figures best indicate available supply for the year after they are reported, I have assigned them to the year following the reporting year. That is, the figure for 2014 comes from the WFP-estimate for 2013/2014, and so on and so forth.

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North Korea summer 2016 food shortage reports

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

‘Tis the season of news reports of food shortages in North Korea. Late spring and summer is the “lean season” for food in the country, when shortages tend to become more dire as the main harvest season approaches. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, the FAO-official Christina Coslet repeated the organization’s prediction of the harvest this year being the smallest since 2011. Moreover, PDS-distribution is reportedly down to 360 grams, the lowest since 2010 (click here for a recap in English by Korea Times):

기자) 코슬렛 담당관님, 우선 북한 식량 사정에 대해 살펴보죠. 요즘 북한의 식량 사정 어떻게 평가하고 있습니까?

코슬렛 담당관) “ The food security situation due to the decreased production is expected to worsen compared to the previous years….”

지난 몇 년 간 보다 훨씬 안 좋을 것으로 보고 있습니다. 아시다시피 지난해 가을 추수한 주요 곡물의 수확량이 크게 감소했습니다. 쌀의 경우 전년도에 비해 26% 감소했고, 옥수수도 3%가량 감소했죠. 북한이 올해 외부 지원이나 수입으로 충당해야 할 식량 부족량이 69만4천t에 이르는데요, 이 같은 식량 부족분 규모는 2011년 이래 최대 규모입니다. 하지만 현재 확보한 식량은 부족 분의 3% 가량인 2만3천t에 그치고 있습니다. [Summary: rice harvests are down by 26%, corn by 3%, the import need is the greatest since 2011 /BKS.]

[…]

기자) 북한 당국의 식량 배급량을 통해서도 북한의 식량 사정을 가늠할 수 있지 않나요?

코슬렛 담당관) “Yes, it is also another way to see the food shortage situation in the country…”

그렇습니다. 식량이 적게 배분됐다는 것은 그만큼 식량 사정이 좋지 않다는 걸 의미하죠. 올해 1월부터 3월까지 북한 당국이 주민 한 명 당 하루 배급한 양은 370g입니다. 하지만 4월부터 6월 배급량은 360g으로 줄었는데요 이는 지난 2010년 이래 가장 적은 양입니다. 그만큼 식량 사정이 좋지 않다고 볼 수 있죠. [Summary: PDS distribution was 370 grams per day between January and March this year, but went down to 360 grams between April and June /BKS.]

Full article:
FAO: Food shortages in North Korea largest in four years
Kim Hyun-jin
Radio Free Asia
2016-06-19

Of course, given the way that the North Korean economy functions today, one might question how much PDS-distributions really matter. There is quite a bit of regional variation in dependency on the PDS, and whatever the actual state of food supply, different localities will be hit differently whenever food supply is lacking.

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Domestic food price dip in North Korea

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s domestic market prices have been behaving somewhat counterintuitively as of late. Harvest declined last year (or at least so the FAO claimed), and given the latest round of sanctions, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect some hoarding and anxiety on the markets, out of anticipation that China may come to control cross-border trade and smuggling more tightly.

Not so, Daily NK reports:

Despite the lean season, referred to domestically as the “barley hump,” during which grains typically get pricier in North Korea, prices are instead on a downward trend, Daily NK has learned.

Daily NK’s sources within the country believe relaxed restrictions on marketplace activity under the Kim Jong Un regime has helped create a balance in the supply and demand of food by way of imports, narrowing the range of price swings even when the local supply dips during the “barley hump.”

“People were quite worried about the economic sanctions from China but are now relieved to see that rice prices have not changed much,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, She reported that in her region, rice, which had been selling at 5,000 KPW (a kilogram) until just a few days ago, had dropped to 4,500 KPW; corn, which fetched 1,200 KPW, slid to 1,000 KPW; and pork prices fell about 1,000 KPW to 11,100 KPW.

“More vendors now import rice, corn, etc. from China, so there’s more than enough to go around even after making up for the shortfall in local supply during the barely hump,” she added, explaining that the dip in rice prices is in large part due to the upcoming harvest of early potatoes and barley, as vendors look to offload their supplies.

Overall, it appears, judging from the stability of market prices, that both formal and informal market mechanisms in North Korea function well enough to make up for shortfalls in production.

Full article:
Dip in prices help residents surmount ‘barley hump’ 
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-06-12

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Kim Jong-un and North Korean machinery industry

Monday, May 30th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has showed quite a bit of interest in the machinery industry as of late. Moreover, Rodong Sinmun has been touting the increased use of (domestically manufactured, I believe) machinery in agriculture in its reporting on the harvest campaign. And as IFES reports in its latest NK brief, the pattern continues (assuming it is a pattern and not just a series of coincidences…). Notice also the emphasis on domestic production. North Korea’s domestic market and manufacturing sector has made pretty significant strides in the past few years, so Kim’s words (highlighted below) may not just be the same old Juche talk of past generations:

Kim visited Machine Factory run by Ho Chol Yong on May 19th and ordered to complete the modernization of the plant by the ruling Party’s founding anniversary in October.

Since his first visit 10 years ago, he has provided field guidance to this factory in 2013 and 2014.

Kim toured an exhibition of machinery and equipment on May 13, emphasizing the need to eradicate the ‘disease of imports.’

On display at the exhibition was unit machinery equipment manufactured during the most recent “70 days speed battle.”

He sat inside the new 80 horsepower tractor developed by Kumsong Tractor plant and expressed his satisfaction over the fact that “[we have] a machine manufactured by our own efforts and with our own technology.”

In addition, he examined the agricultural equipment including seed drills and ordered to “enhance modernization of the agricultural plants and production process in order to produce more efficient farming equipment and parts by increasing the level of mechanization in agricultural industry by 60 to 70 percent.”

“For the mechanical products at the exhibit, self-reliance must come first, self-reliance is our way of life,” Kim stressed. He also emphasized the need to “eradicate the disease of imports.”

Kim Jong Un also said “we should continue to reinforce our Juche-based capacity based on our own ability, technology and resources and continue the pursuit of revolutionary self-determination-first policy,” and added, “the only thing we can believe in is our own self strength.”

During the Seventh Party Congress, Kim Jong Un said that the machinery industry is the touchstone of economic and technological development. He also directed to introduce a state-of-the-art equipment system and modernize a production line by updating existing equipment for maximum capacity in the machinery sector.

Kim Jong Un has visited 10 different machinery factories this year alone, placing considerable attention on making improvements to advance and modernize this industry.

Source:
Kim Jong Un Showing Special Attention to Improving Machinery Industry
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2016-05-31

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New loyalty campaign in North Korea, to boost the 5-year plan

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just as one mass campaign ended (the “70-day battle”), another one begins. This time, it’s a 200-day campaign to boost the economy and fulfill the 5-year plan. Perhaps a grim premonition of what is to come as the 5-year plan is implemented further. Yonhap:

North Korea kicked off a new loyalty campaign to get people to work more as part of its five-year economic program announced at its seventh ruling party congress, state controlled media said Sunday.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a meeting of ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), government, economic and military officials was held Thursday through Saturday, where participants agreed to launch the “200-day campaign of loyalty” that can bolster growth.

The announcement comes on the back of Pyongyang concluding its “70-day campaign of loyalty” program just before the start of the rare congress that took place early this month. That campaign ran from mid-February to May 2.

The new effort is being pursued as the United Nations sanctions take bite, and the country finds itself more and more isolated from the outside world. The global body slapped its toughest sanctions to date on the reclusive country for its fourth nuclear test in January and the firing off of a long-range missile the following month.

The KCNA said that leading members at last week’s gathering in Pyongyang concurred on the need to join forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the new campaign in accordance with the guidance put forth by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim outlined his new five-year economic growth plan running from this year to 2020 and called on North Koreans to meet the growth goals.

Article source:
N. Korea kicks off new loyalty campaign to prop up economy
Yonhap News 
2016-05-29

Here is a statement from the Pyongyang Times (2016-5-30):

Joint conference takes measures for five-year economic development strategy, declares 200-day campaign

A joint conference of Party, government and military officials was held between May 26 and 28 in Pyongyang to discuss the ways to implement the tasks set forth at the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

It was attended by senior officials Pak Pong Ju, Choe Thae Bok, Pak Yong Sik, O Su Yong, Kwak Pom Gi, Ri Man Gon and Jo Yon Jun and other officials from Party and military organs, the Cabinet, working people’s organizations, ministries, national agencies, local Party and government organs and major industrial establishments.

The joint conference, the first of its kind in the history of the WPK, discussed scientific and realistic ways to carry through the national five-year strategy for economic development put forward at the Seventh WPK Congress and important measures to achieve the grand objective for building a socialist power by inspiring all the service personnel and people to the campaign to create the Mallima speed.

Premier Pak Pong Ju, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, delivered a report.

He said the Party, army and people are faced with the important and honourable task of accomplishing the cause of a socialist power as early as possible when the independent ideal and desire of the people are being translated into reality in an all-round way under the banner of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.

In the five-year period, he noted, we should resolve the energy problem, put the vanguard sectors and key economic industries on a normal track and increase agricultural and light industrial production by adhering to the Party’s new line of simultaneously promoting the two fronts, thereby radically improving the people’s standards of living.

Specifying the targets for implementing the five-year strategy by major indices, he pointed to the issues to be settled in all sectors of an economic giant building, including the concentration on easing power shortage, the master key in economic development and improved livelihood of the people.

To thoroughly implement the important tasks set forth at the Seventh Party Congress, he pointed out, it is imperative to enhance the state’s function as the organizer of the economy and establish a Korean-style economic management method embodying the Juche idea in an all-round way.

“Officials of the Cabinet, ministries and national agencies should work out phased plans for implementing the economic development strategy in a realistic manner on the basis of the Party’s line and policy, arrange economic work scrupulously and make persistent efforts to carry them through,” he stressed.

“Economic work should be planned and directed in such a way as to concentrate efforts on the main link and activate the economy as a whole. All sectors and all units have to establish strict discipline and order whereby they place all economic work under the control of the Cabinet and work according to its unified planning and direction in line with the requirements of the Cabinet-responsibility system and Cabinet-centred system.

“Relevant sectors and units should establish Korean-style economic management methods as required by developing reality, while factories, enterprises and cooperative organizations have to map out business strategies and conduct business activities on their own initiatives and in a creative manner in keeping with the requirements of the socialist system of enterprises managing themselves on their own responsibility, thereby putting production on track and expanding and developing it.”

As part of the joint conference, meetings were held by each economic sector.

The meetings discussed the tasks to be tackled by each sector and unit, presenting lots of innovative and creative ideas.

As he wound up the joint conference, the Premier said that it fully discussed scientific and realistic measures and ways to implement the tasks of the Congress, stressing that all the participants came to have firm confidence and optimism through the conference that they could well attain the targets of the five-year strategy.

He called on all officials to plan and command economic work of their sectors and units in a three-dimensional way and at lightning speed and carry out the tasks of the Congress at the risk of their lives as the standard-bearers of their ranks and buglers of advance, thereby fulfilling their honourable mission as commanding officials in the glorious era of Kim Jong Un.

At the conference, a 200-day campaign of loyalty was declared for making a breakthrough in the implementation of the five-year strategy.

On the other hand, a meeting of members of Party guidance teams for the 200-day campaign was held on May 28, where the significance of the campaign was mentioned and steps related to the campaign were emphasized.

Read out at the meeting were the names of members of the central and provincial headquarters of the Party guidance teams and those who would be dispatched.

Speakers expressed their resolve to keep up the heightened spirit of having brought about great victory in the 70-day campaign so as to win triumphs uninterruptedly from the outset of the new campaign, thereby making a tangible contribution to demonstrating once again the mettle and stamina of Juche Korea rushing forward towards a socialist power.

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Rice planting campaign underway in North Korea

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Earlier this month, the North Korean government launched a rice-planting campaign, mobilizing citizens for agricultural work. Rodong Sinmun has written about this campaign a few times during May. On the 13th, Rodong dedicated almost a full page to rice plantation, calling for a “breakthrough”. The article contains some language on agricultural organization: for example, it cites an agricultural organization [기술전습회] that urges farmers to be creative in their farming methods and adapt to their separate conditions.

While this might sound like an argument for less central state control, provincial independence has been a hallmark of the Juche system for decades. Kim Jong-il said similar things during the famine years. The issue, of course, is that as long as inputs, land use, production targets and other variables remain centrally planned, local creativity can only go so far.

The article does, however, contain some interesting claims. For example, one senior official (Ri Kyong-rok) is quoted as saying that water conditions are twice as good as last year. Moreover, the article also claims that fertilizer is more abundantly available than last year. Perhaps this is all true (a big perhaps), but if so, it would go against the past year’s trend of worsening conditions for agricultural overall.

On May 16th, Rodong again carried a long piece on the rice planting campaign, calling for every citizen’s participation and hard work, based on scientific methods.

Mass campaigns such as this one can obviously not be fully understand only through North Korean publications. Yesterday, Daily NK carried a piece about how campaigns such as this one play out on the ground, with market trade becoming more restricted as the government strives to ensure that everyone dutifully participates in rice planting:

The mobilization, which commenced on May 15, will remain in effect until June 15, a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. Of most concern to residents is the fact that for the duration of the mass mobilization, official general markets will operate only three hours daily– from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.–and business-related travel be strictly limited.

This news was corroborated by sources in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, North Pyongan Province, and North and South Hamgyong Provinces.

In addition, alcohol sales in restaurants will be banned for the ordinance’s duration; service establishments including barbers, hair salons, and public bathhouses are permitted to operate, but only after 5 p.m.

All central agencies, state-run factories, social organizations, universities, and high schools are busy gearing up for the mass mobilization. To ensure their compliance, streets are plastered with “farm assistance-battle” posters, and vehicles outfitted with loudspeakers move through neighborhoods from early morning hours, blaring propaganda songs to keep up the pressure; local officials wielding megaphones follow suit on foot, calling on everyone from “homemakers, the elderly, and middle school students to commute to farms nearby and work,” the source said.

“The streets are lined with Ministry of People’s Security personnel [MPS], carrying out orders to step up surveillance and crackdowns to maximize support [for the mobilization]. In parallel, prosecutors and other agents from the judicial system patrol state-run companies and residential areas to check up on the mobilization numbers. If firms fall short of the quotas, company managers face punitive measures, which can include, among other things, imprisonment for up to ten days.”

The heightened control and fear tactics, he added, are to hedge against possible public outrage from a populace forced to participate in successive mobilizations, which hamper market business and thereby severely undermine their livelihood.

Full article:
Rice-planting mobilization order handed down
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-05-22

 

Daily NK also discussed the campaign with So Jae Pyong, secretary general for the Association of North Korean Defectors:

We saw an article emphasizing grain production on page five of the 13th issue of the Rodong Sinmun entitled, “This Year’s Uphill Battle for Grain” and then again on the front page on the 16th issue, “Band Together for the Rice-Planting Battle.” It would appear that North Korea is still dealing with their chronic grain underproduction. What seems to be the problem?

The main problem is that even the farmers themselves are suffering from hunger and are therefore turning their attention away from their official farm duties and working private secret farms on the side. This is because they till the earth tirelessly all year long on their official farms only to have their produce taken away for the military and State rations. They are only met with poverty and starvation based on this system so it’s easy to see their lack of drive to work hard for more production. Based on this, they have no other choice but to have an almost forced production system on the collective farms. The government needs to implement some kind of policy to improve the quality of the lives of these farmers but that just simply isn’t the case. Farmers have zero interest in the production of their crops because of this system. They’re really only focused on their separate, private crops. I think the only way to alleviate the hunger and poverty that citizens are suffering from is to completely do away with this type of quota system.

Full article:
Hearts and minds remain at the ‘jangmadang’ despite propaganda push
Unification Media Group
Daily NK
2015-05-22

 

(UPDATE 2016-02-24): 

Daily NK reports some discontent with rice planting campaign, with complaints about how it interferes with Kim Jong-un’s own policies of raising science and technology in education:

“The students in our province have been sent to agricultural regions such as Koksan County and Yonsan County. During the ‘70-Day Battle,’ the students were forced to plant seeds and pull up weeds. Now, as the students head off to the farms again, they are sardonically spouting off lines about how they are farmers rather than students,” a source in North Hwanghae Province reported to Daily NK on May 20.

“The students have remarked that being pressed into forced labor during the ‘70-Day Battle,’ and now for the ‘Rice-Planting Battle’ is just as laborious and difficult as risking your life on an actual battlefield. They justifiably point out, ‘If these kind of ‘battles’ continue to arise, when are we supposed to study?’“

Since rising to power, Kim Jong Un has frequently underscored the importance of education, describing universities as the “platform for launching the future of the nation, one of the main pillars of society, and the training ground for leaders.” He has also continued to point out that it is important to focus on experiential learning and on-the-job-training in order to elevate the quality of the nation’s education and produce illustrious students with technical knowledge.

However, the record shows a different tale. Students have spent a considerable amount of time being mobilized to work on idolization construction sites and farms. This has severely crippled their educational experience. Consequently, students have become upset that their instruction hours have not been protected and that they are being exploited for their labor.

Added a separate source in South Hwanghae Province, “University students have spent more time working on the farm than they have spent studying for their classes or learning about science/technology. Under such circumstances, students naturally complain that it is difficult to imagine how these universities will be able to fulfill Kim Jong Un’s order to create illustrious students with technological capabilities.”

Full article:
Complaints mounting among university students sent to farms for labor
Daily NK
Kim Chae Hwan
2015-05-23

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North Korean economic production and the 70-Day Campaign

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

UPDATE 1 (2016-5-18): By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A couple of weeks ago, KCNA carried another evaluation of production during the 70-Day Campaign. In the context of claims that the newly launched five-year plan (2016-2020) is the first one in decades, it is worth noting that economic planning as such has never fully ceased to be part and parcel of the official North Korean economy. As communist economies do, North Korea still measures economic success much in terms of mere output. The 70-Day Campaign is one example:

The Korean Central News Agency Thursday released a report on the successful conclusion of the 70-day campaign with a great victory to be specially recorded in the history of the Korean nation under the guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

According to the report, the capabilities for self-defence including the capacity of nuclear attack of Juche Korea have been remarkably bolstered and the campaign plan has been over-fulfilled 44 percent in terms of industrial output value, and industrial production has grown 1.6 times as against the same period last year.

Signal successes have been achieved in the development of Korean-style smaller nuclear warhead, simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, test of high-power solid-fuel rocket engine and stage separation, test of high-power engine of inter-continental ballistic missile.

Workers in the four vanguard fields have performed labor feats in the van of day-and-night campaign.

Those in the field of power industry honored their 70-day campaign quotas at 110 percent.

I am not one to draw major conclusions from the order of mentions of areas in reports such as this one, but if the order says anything about priorities, it is worth noting that energy shows up first among other areas than missiles and nukes. Recall that energy has been emphasized by media tied to the North Korean regime.

The Ministry of Coal Industry carried out its coal production plan more than 10 days ahead of schedule and results of capital tunneling and preparatory tunneling have jumped several times as against those in the past.

Those in the steel field and miners hit the goals of production of Juche iron, rolled steel and iron ore.

The field of railway transport carried out the plan for the transport of major freight at 124 percent.

What economic value more transportation carries is unclear…

More than 70 farm machines of over 20 types have been invented and manufactured, typically potato harvester, self-propelled sprayer, combined plowing machine, combined soil governing machine, small multi-purpose farm machine and combined rice thresher.

Those in the fishery field built multi-purpose fishing boats of “Hwanggumhae” series by their own efforts and with indigenous technology in a brief span of time and put them into operation.

The plan for the production of machine tools has been over-fulfilled more than 60 percent and index-specific campaign plans have also been carried out in the machine-building industrial field.

Workers in the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex and Hungnam Fertilizer Complex produced 1.2 times as much fertilizers as before and the February 8 Vinalon Complex significantly increased the production of vinalon and various kinds of other basic chemical goods.

The nationwide cement production plan has been carried out at 141 percent and a boost has also been recorded in the production of varieties of building materials including glass.

Workers of forestry stations and mine pillars production stations honored timber production plan set by the Ministry of Forestry at 137 percent.

Agricultural workers across the country have made full preparations for farming by their devoted efforts.

But note that no numbers are given for farming output, or any agricultural output other than fishing and seaweed.

Officials and workers in the fishery field have over-fulfilled their plan for fishing and seaweed culture more than 10 percent when the results of the Ministry of Fisheries are taken as a whole.

The gross industrial output value in the field of light industry has been over-fulfilled 54 percent and the index-specific performance has shown a marked jump over the period before the campaign.

A number of consumption goods producers have hit their goals for the first half of the year or the yearly ones. Some of them even set a record by fulfilling two-year production quotas.

Those in the field of land and environment protection and workers and other people across the country including youths and students planted hundreds of millions of trees in mountains covering more than 100 000 hectares.

The Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station No. 3 and the Wonsan Army-People Power Station have been successfully completed.

In just one month after breaking the ground for the construction of Ryomyong Street, its builders finished ground excavation for dozens of blocks of apartment houses and are now pushing forward the ground concrete tamping in its final stage.

Baby homes, orphanages, orphans’ primary and secondary schools sprang up across the country and the Mindulle Notebook Factory was built.

New structures have been built one after another. They include Dyke No. 2 of Nunggumdo Tideland, Outdoor Sapling Cultivation Ground of the Central Nursery of the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection and Pyongyang Athletic Apparatus Factory.

Scientists and educators across the country registered three times as many research achievements as against the same period last year to be conducive to the economic development of the country and the betterment of the people’s living standard.

Unprecedented achievements have also been made in the fields of literature, arts, education, public health and sports.

The 70-day campaign of loyalty clearly showed the world how the great Kim Jong Un‘s Korea is advancing toward the eminence of the century.

The full article was published by KCNA on May 6th.

ORIGINAL POST (2016-4-30):

“Industrial establishments over-fulfill production targets as the 70-day campaign comes to an end” (Pyongyang Times: 2016-4-30)

The Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, one of the model units in the current 70-day campaign of loyalty, hit its steel and pig iron production targets 101 percent respectively as of April 20.

Smelters of the UHP electric arc furnace have so far reset the peak production record of molten iron per charge several times. They gave full play to the spirit of collectivism of helping and leading one another forward, while introducing advanced working methods to shorten the time of heating and increase the output of molten iron per charge.

The workers of the continuous ingot steel workshop carried out their daily production plan at 102 percent on average, 110 percent at maximum.

Those of the Sunchon Cement Complex drastically raised cement production on the first day of the campaign to renew the daily peak production record for the first time in 20 years. Without resting on their laurels, they worked hard and finally achieved their campaign goals.

The Ministry of Coal Industry carried out its highly-set campaign target ahead of schedule as of April 20 with the coal production plan 101 percent and major, preliminary and boring tunnelling 101.5, 105.5 and 106. 6 percent respectively.

Coal-mining machine factories across the country manufactured and repaired thousands of coal wagons and made over 1 800 wheels more than planned under the uplifted self-development-first banner. A great deal of achievements were also made in the production of coal-mining equipment and their parts.

The Chongchongang Thermal Power Station increased power generation to exceed its campaign plan by 2.2 percent as of April 25. The workers of the station repaired equipment and increased the number of boilers in operation to ensure uninterrupted power generation.

The February 8 Vinalon Complex gave priority to the supply of raw materials and fuel, staggered production and organized management of equipment and technology scrupulously to boost production, thereby surpassing the vinalon production goal by 50 percent.
Workers of the Wonsan Salt Works increased production 2.2 times over the same period of last year by fully storing seawater in reservoirs while introducing an advanced seawater freezing method which suits the conditions on the east coast throughout the winter.

Thousands of hectares of farmland have been rezoned in Kaesong and Jangphung County, with over 19 300 patches and paddies and more than 1 260-kilometre-long ridges between paddy and dry fields removed and hundreds of hectares of land brought under cultivation. This paved the way for comprehensive mechanization of farming on all fields and consequent increased cereals production.

Officials and workers of the Sinuiju Textile Mill have produced three times more cotton yarn and fabrics than before the campaign. Amidst the dynamic collective emulation drive between workteams, shifts and workshops, many workers and workteams have carried out the first half year and annual production plans as well as campaign plans and the number is growing.

More than 200 factories and enterprises in Pyongyang have hit their 70-day campaign goals and first half year plans ahead of schedule.

“Nation’s Industrial Production Rises 1.2 Times” (Pyongyang Times: 2016-3-16)

Industrial output grows rapidly thanks to the heightened revolutionary enthusiasm and creative spirit of selfreliance and self development of service personnel and people, who have risen up in the day and night march true to the call of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea for launching a 70day campaign of loyalty for the Seventh Party Congress, according to a report of the Korean Central News Agency on March 12.

The nation’s industrial production increased 1.2 times in the first ten days of March over the same period of last year.

The Pukchang and Pyongyang thermal power complexes and other thermal and hydropower stations across the country pressed on with power generation as scheduled, far exceeding the tenday targets set by the Party.

Coal mines in the western areas including Tokchon and Sunchon cut thousands of tons of coal more every day.

The Ministry of Coal Industry overfulfilled the tenday production plan by 13 per cent and the results of major and preliminary tunnelling far surpassed the plan, securing hundreds of reserve coalcutting faces.

The workers of the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex doubled the Juche iron output over the same period of last year, and all metallurgical bases conducted a dynamic drive to increase iron and steel production.

Amidst the heated emulation and experiencesharing in iron ore mines in Musan, Unnyul, Thaethan and other areas, the Jaeryong Mine increased daily production over 1.5 times on average, thus taking the lead in the supply of concentrated iron ores to metallurgical factories.

The Ministry of Railways, all the railway bureaus and their branches commanded railway transport scrupulously and gave top priority to concentrated transport without accident to overfulfil the plan for main freight.

The increased production in the vanguard economic sectors injected a new lease of life into the overall major industrial sectors such as machinebuilding, chemical, building materials and mining industries and forestry.

The Taean Heavy Machine Complex completed the production of generating equipment till March 9 in a matter of two months and sent them to the construction site of Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station No. 3 on March 10.

The workers of the large machinebuilding bases in Ragwon and Ryongsong and the Sungni Motor Complex speeded up the processing of products and increased the production of spare parts including various kinds of gears and speed reducers, a great contribution to a 1.5 times rise in the production of thermal power generating equipment of the Ministry of Machine Building Industry.

The workers of the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex hit the Juche fertilizer production target for the first ten days of March.

Cement production is also growing in the Sangwon Cement Complex whose workers and technicians have turned out to break the production record again this year after last year.

Many forestry and prop production stations carried out their first quarterly and yearly timber production quotas.

Farming preparations were brisk on the agricultural front, resulting in a 1.7 and 2.8 times growth in the securing of hukposan and microbial fertilizers and an over 1.3 times increase in the acreage of field carpeted with humus soil.

Officials and fishermen carried out the plans of the Ministry of Fisheries for ten days 121 per cent.

Daily amount of catch increased rapidly and fishing results saw a leap in the fishery stations on the east and west coasts.

Hundreds of workers hit their targets for the first quarter and half of the year in the field of textile industry. Kumkhop, Pomhyanggi and Maebongsan and other popular brands saw a sharp rise in sales.

Many major construction projects progressed apace including those for Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station No. 3, reconstruction of Kim Il Sung Stadium, secondstage reconstruction of the Central Zoo, capacity builup of the Central Tree Nursery of the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection, the central class education hall and Wonsan Army People Power Station.

Many young people volunteered to work in labour consuming fields and hundreds of workers carried out their yearly plans.

“KCNA Reports about Signal Successes in Various Fields in Early March” (KCNA: 2016-3-13)

The Korean Central News Agency Saturday said in a report that the industrial production in the first ten days of March when the 70-day campaign of loyalty is under way grew 1.2 times as compared with the corresponding period of last year.

According to the report, production in the vanguard and basic industrial fields of the national economy including electric power, coal, metal and railway transport sharply rose.

Thermal power plants and hydro-power stations across the country have over-fulfilled their daily quotas.

The production plan of the Ministry of Coal Industry for ten days in March was over-fulfilled 13 percent.

The workers of the Chollima Steel Complex boosted the production of rolled steel 32 percent.

A dynamic drive for increased iron and steel production is under way in metallurgical bases across the country including the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex.

The Jaeryong Mine increased daily quotas over 1.5 times on an average, thus taking the lead among the iron ore mines in Musan, Unryul, Thaethan and other areas.

The Ministry of Railways, all the railway bureaus and sub-bureaus over-fulfilled main freight haulage plan.

The increased production in the vanguard sectors of the national economy injected vitality into major industrial fields such as machine-building, chemical, building material and mining industries and forestry.

The custom-built equipment for different fields of the national economy were turned out and the production of nonferrous metal ore, chemical fertilizers, cement, sheet glass, timber, etc. radically increased.

The Taean Heavy Machine Complex completed the production of generating equipment in a matter of two months and sent them to the construction site of the Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station No. 3 on Mar. 10.

The Ministry of Machine Industry increased the production of thermal power generating equipment 1.5 times.

Mines under the Phosphate Fertilizer Industry Management Bureau honored its plan at 150 percent.

The workers of the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex hit the goal for the production of Juche fertilizers.

The workers and technicians of the Sangwon Cement Complex are working hard to surpass the peak production year again this year.

The Sunchon Cement Complex, the Chonnaeri Cement Factory and the Sunghori Cement Factory boosted the production over 10 percent.

Many forestry stations and pit prop production stations also honored their first quarterly and yearly timber production quotas.

The production of homemade fertilizers and their transport, tractor overhauling and maintenance and other farming preparations are nearing completion thanks to the devoted drive of agricultural workers across the country.

The fishery officials and workers over-fulfilled their production plan of the Ministry of Fisheries for ten days 21 percent.

The field of light industry over-fulfilled the production plans for textiles, knitwear and shoes.

In the field of textile industry hundreds of workers honored the half yearly and first quarterly quotas and famous products and goods favored by the people are on the increase.

Many major construction projects are making rapid progress.

A lot of young people volunteer to work in the hard and labor-consuming fields.

Across the country hundreds of workers honored their yearly plans, at least 3,600 people carried out the first half yearly plans and more than 15,400 people hit the first quarterly goal.

A lot of members of the women’s union are giving helping hands to builders in power stations, workers of coal and ore mines. War veterans, honorary party members and pensioners have turned out in the 70-day campaign in South Phyongan Province and other parts of the country to fully demonstrate the noble traits of our society advancing with the might of single-minded unity.

“Rapid Economic Growth Witnessed in DPRK” (KCNA: 2016-4-8)

The DPRK has made a rapid progress in major construction or reconstruction projects and industrial production in recent 40 days after the start of the 70-day campaign.

In particular, Pyongyang, its capital city, showed an increase of twice in the tempo of construction or reconstruction projects and 1.6 times in industrial production.

The Aeguk Vegetable Processing Factory and the Mangyongdae Children’s Camp were rebuilt on a modern basis and the second-stage renovation of the Central Zoo is progressing apace at the final stage.

Besides, 80 percent of total work has been carried out in scores of construction and reconstruction projects, including the Ryuwon Shoes Factory, Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory and the Pyongyang Cornstarch Factory.

Electricity and coal outputs went up at thermal-power and hydro-power stations and coal mines.

The Pyongyang Steel Works and the Pyongyang Cast Iron Pipe Factory fulfilled their production plans 120 percent on an average, 150 percent to the maximum.

An increasing number of units in light industry and foodstuff industry have finished their yearly and half-yearly production quotas.

Such successes are reported from railway, agricultural and other industrial sectors.

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Why agricultural reform may appear on the Worker’s Party Congress agenda, and why it might not

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At this time of writing, the 7th Party Congress of the Korean Worker’s Party is only one day away. In the runup to the congress, as is natural, there has been much speculation about what the congress content will actually be. Most analyses seems to believe that personal and institutional decisions will be at the center, but there have also been speculations that policy proclamations may be made in areas such as agriculture.

This post is not an attempt at forecasting, an often fruitless endeavor.  Rather than predictions, this post offers a few reasons why agricultural reform may be on the agenda for the congress in some shape or form, and a few reasons to believe the opposite.

Why agricultural reform may show up…

The first thing to note is that the North Koreans themselves rarely (or never) use the term “reform” to describe economic policy changes. If such changes are announced, they will probably be called “improvements” or simply “changes”. In any case, the arguably strongest reason to believe that liberalizing policy changes may appear on the congress agenda is that they seem to be working, at least from the perspective of the North Korean government.

Recall that last summer, North Korean press touted the efficiency of the small work-team structures and similar management policy changes in agriculture. Contrary to recent reports about reduced harvests due to the drought, North Korean media claimed that harvests were going up. Earlier, in 2012, journalists were invited to farms to hear farmers themselves speak about the policy changes, a clear indication that the regime was comfortably and formally toying with the rules. At least for some farmers: it is very possible that the reforms were rolled out on a trial-basis, and that they later got stuck in the bureaucratic mills or were deemed too radical. In sum, North Korean media outlets themselves have touted the reforms as successful, and though media reports do not amount to official policy proclamations, they are often good indicators for what’s going on behind the scenes.

…and why it might not.

On the other hand, agriculture has been conspicuously absent from several major publications and proclamations about policy priorities and successes over the past year. For example, agriculture only showed up once in the slogans the regime published earlier this year, while industry received several central shout-outs. Reforms or policy changes in agriculture were not mentioned at all. There are also reasons to doubt that agricultural reforms really did have a strong impact on harvests in 2015 — the increase in harvest output began earlier than state media started mentioning reforms.

Moreover, reports on economic output which the regime published only a few days ago only mentioned agriculture almost in passing. The reports only spoke about how farmers had diligently met their quotas for gathering fertilizer, and did not mention policy changes:

Farming preparations were brisk on the agricultural front, resulting in a 1.7 and 2.8 times growth in the securing of hukposan and microbial fertilizers and an over 1.3 times increase in the acreage of field carpeted with humus soil.

[…]

The production of homemade fertilizers and their transport, tractor overhauling and maintenance and other farming preparations are nearing completion thanks to the devoted drive of agricultural workers across the country.

[…]

Such successes are reported from railway, agricultural and other industrial sectors.

It’s socialist economics as usual, in other words: people work hard according to the planned quotas, and fulfill them because the state told them to do so. Moreover, the Washington Post’s report on Wednesday from a collective farm near Pyongyang did not mention any talk of policy changes in agriculture.

None of this sounds like the propaganda buildup one would expect in the weeks before a grand policy announcement. At least we won’t have to wait too long before we know.

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North Korea’s food situation: worse, but maybe just back to normal

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm bells on North Korean food production. The drought of last summer, among other factors, has caused North Korea’s food production to drop for the first time since 2010. (Recall that in the past years, both North Korean media outlets and some analysts touted Kim Jong-un’s agricultural reforms — the former claimed that food production was increasing despite the drought. It seems they spoke too soon).

Numbers like this, however, matter little without context. After all, five years is not a very long measurement period. Analysts like Marcus Noland have noted that the years following 2010 were probably exceptionally good. The current downturn might be best contextualized as a return to lower but more normal levels of food production.

How does the latest food production figure look in a larger context? The short answer is: not that bad, even though the downward trend is obviously problematic. Let us take a brief look at North Korean food production figures over the past few years. All following numbers show food production figures in millions of milled cereal equivalent tons:

  • 2008/2009: 3.3
  • 2010/2011: 4.5
  • 2012/2013: 4.9
  • 2013/2014: 5.03
  • 2014/2015: 5.08
  • 2015/2016: 5.06

(Sources for all figures except the 2015/2016 figure can be found here, in a piece I wrote for 38 North late last year. It seems the calculation I made for 2015/2016 was off by 0.01 million tonnes.)

In other words, yes, the latest food production estimate represents a decrease, but it’s not that big. North Korean food production is still far larger than it’s been for most of the 2000s.

It is also interesting to note the striking variation in North Korean government food imports. Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard wrote in Famine in North Korea that the government downsized food imports as a response to increasing aid flows. Whatever the rationale might be behind the regime’s food import policies, they tend to vary greatly from year to year. In 2012/2013, the country imported almost 400,000 tonnes of cereal. In the mid-2000s, imports were close to one million tonnes, and they dropped to under 300,000 tonnes in 2008/2009.  In 2011/2012, imports climbed to 700,000 tons.

For 2015/2016, FAO projects a gap of need versus production of 694,000 tonnes, but government imports stand at around 300,000 tonnes, a relatively low figure in a historical context. Thus, North Korea is left with an uncovered deficit of 384,000 tonnes. Presumably, this wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to cover by doubling cereal imports. The economy seems far more healthy today than it was in 2011-2012, and still, it managed to import more than double its planned imports of 2015-2016.

All in all, North Korea’s food production appears to be far from sufficient or stable, but the situation does not appear acute in a historical context. Indeed, one could argue that it’s a matter of policy choices and priorities: the regime could choose to increase imports to offset the decline in production, but its funds are spent elsewhere. And, of course, more efficient agricultural policies overall would make North Korean agriculture and food markets far more resilient to weather variations.

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Food prices in North Korea: vegetable prices up, rice prices stable

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports that vegetable prices have gone up in North Korea’s border regions, due to cold weather and forced mobilization efforts (the 70-day battle). But rice prices remain stable (my emphasis):

The price of vegetables including cabbage and radish has surged around the border regions in North Korea and to a lesser degree, further inland. The sudden spike is believed to be driven by sanctions jitters, unseasonably cold temperatures, and excessive mobilization for the upcoming Party Congress, but is being viewed by some as a temporary upswing, given the continual stability in rice prices and foreign exchange rates. 

“Back in February, cabbage was selling for around 2,500 KPW (per kilogram), but prices have suddenly jumped to 7,000 KPW. That’s more expensive than rice,” a Daily NK source in Ryanggang Province reported on April 25. “Now is usually the time when food supplies are short (because of the barley hump), but it looks like the hike was triggered by more people mixing in dried greens with their rice to conserve their rice supplies, in the belief that the food situation may worsen due to [implications stemming from] the sanctions.”

[…]

“In some areas of Taehongdan County, people are eating so-called ‘radish noodles,’ which are made by coating radish leaves with potato starch,” the source explained.

On a nerdy note, I wonder if the connection between potato starch and Taehongdan is merely accidental. Remember, Taehongdan is the birthplace of Kim Jong-il’s 1998 “Potato Revolution.”

Food prices also seem to be impacted by the blitz-mobilization campaign leading up to the 7th Party Congress (my emphasis):

Conditions in the central inland areas are not much different. Individuals who would normally grow their own vegetables have seen their schedules disrupted by ongoing “70-Day Battle” mobilizations. “Thanks to the continual mobilizations, said by many to be ‘turning their hearts into black lumps of coal’, ahead of the Party Congress, business at the markets has lost its vibrancy and the residents are miserable,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

Rice prices, meanwhile, remain notably stabile:

Despite these high prices, movements on the rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and demand.

Full article here:
Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stabile 
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-04-28

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