Autumn Harvest at Cooperative Farms

From the Korea Times:

Every autumn the North Korean newspapers shower their readers with pictures and lengthy reports about the unbelievable happiness felt by North Korean farmers.
November is the time when the annual food distribution is made in the agricultural cooperatives, and farmers are reportedly overwhelmed with joy about the great harvest. As the Great Leader himself once pointed out, every year in the North was to see a bumper harvest, and nothing else could possibly be reported.

The world of most North Korean farmers is limited to their cooperative farm (hyoptong nongjang in Korean). Koreans are not allowed to change their place of residence at will, and until the social disruption of the mid-1990s even brief trips outside one’s native country were rare since such trips required police permission.

Men spend 7-10 years in the army, but if they returned back to their native village after military service, they usually stayed there for the rest of their lives.

Collective farms were first introduced to the North in the 1950s, and by 1958 membership was obligatory for all peasants.

In joining the collective farms, the farmers had to give up their land, orchards, essential agricultural tools, cattle and the like. They were allowed to have tiny kitchen gardens, to grow a couple of fruit trees and to keep chicken. In regard to larger animals, like pigs or sheep or dogs (kept for food, of course), the policy has changed a number of times.

In theory, the collective’s property belongs to its members, but this fiction never misled anybody. In everything but name, the collective farm is a state-run and governmentowned institution.

Its major task is to meet government- defined production quotas and provide the state with foodstuffs. The farm is managed by people appointed by the authorities. It is supervised by the local (county-level) ‘Farming Management Committee’ which, in turn, is subordinated to the similar committee at the provincial level.

The entire structure is supervised by the National Agricultural Committee which in 1998 was renamed the ‘Ministry of Agriculture.’

In addition to the collective farms, the North has very similar institutions called ‘state-run farms.’ There are some fine distinctions in management style, but from a common farmer’s prospective, the difference between these two types of farms is negligible.

In the past decade a number of collective farms were transformed into state farms (this process mirrored the developments in the USSR in the 1970s).

Currently, there are some 3,300 collective farms in the North, as well as some 200 state farms. The average collective farm comprises 500-800 households, but the actual size varies depending on the area.

Typically, the farm headquarters is located in a larger village, surrounded by a number of smaller settlements. Each collective farm has its own health center, library and other welfare institutions.

According to the system which was established in the late 1950s and which existed without much change until the recent economic crash, the farmers worked in units known as ‘productive groups,’ each group being responsible for a particular area or project.

All members had every tenth day off _ no Sundays. All harvest had to be given to the state. In exchange, in autumn a part of it was distributed back to the farmers with much celebration and pomp. Usually, an ablebodied adult would receive some 250-300 kilograms of cereals plus some other items of food.

For children or older people the norms were proportionally less. However, the distribution was conditional on meeting government quotas. If quotas were not met, then rations were cut.

Unlike many (indeed, most) communist countries, the North never tolerated even small-scale private farming. The kitchen plots were very small and, in some periods, non-existent. Markets were forbidden, or at the least discouraged.

Obviously, this was done to deprive the farmers of any alternative to working hard in the state’s plots. This policy was augmented by draconian punishments meted out to those foolish enough to attempt to retain any of the ‘state produce’ for themselves.

Economically, the collective farms have never been efficient, but for three decades they managed to provide the country with the necessary minimum of food.

The economic disaster of the mid-1990s changed that. In some cases it led to a quiet piecemeal dismantling of the collective farms, never to be admitted by the authorities.


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