North Korea orders factories and businesses to supply farm equipment for harvest – Radio Free Asia
North Korea is forcing local organizations and businesses to dip into their own coffers to provide equipment and supplies to cooperative farms ahead of harvest season amid an expected grain shortage, local officials told RFA.
A quarter of a century after famine killed up to a tenth of North Korea’s 23 million people, the food situation in North Korea is dire again, with famine deaths reported as a result the closing of the Sino-Korean border and the suspension of trade with China. in January 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to the heavy summer rains which caused serious flooding and destroyed crops in some regions, the production of many farms is reduced by the lack of equipment and materials, a consequence of the long closure of the border with China.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated in a recent report that North Korea will be short of about 860,000 tonnes of food this year, about two months of normal demand.
To help avoid the pre-harvest crisis, the government is ordering factories and businesses to donate equipment and supplies, an official from northeast Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean service last week.
“A mission of supplying agricultural equipment for harvesting and threshing was given to local organizations and businesses at the party’s administrative meeting in Chongjin City a few days ago,” the official said.
“Company officials are deeply troubled by the mission, as it is already difficult to operate businesses due to economic conditions and the coronavirus pandemic,” said the source, who requested anonymity for details. security reasons.
The suspension of trade with China has killed trade in entire cities, factories run out of raw materials and no longer able to manufacture finished products, and trading companies have closed.
But now those same factories and businesses have been ordered to help the farms.
“The city’s chief party secretary himself addressed the audience on the podium at the meeting, saying that the party’s policy has always been to actively support agricultural areas. He stressed that there was not much time left before the harvest, ”said the source from North Hamgyong.
“The list of agricultural equipment needed by every factory and business does not just include small items like shovels, sickles, baskets of straw to carry soil, grain twines, wood and nails. It also includes materials like rebar, cement, bearings, machine belts, diesel fuel and lubricants, ”the source said.
Companies don’t have to provide all of the items on the list, but they do have to offer one or two of the more difficult-to-find items, such as machine belts, fuel and lubricants, depending on the source.
“The problem is that companies usually don’t have additional items and therefore have to buy most of them from the local market, which is very troubling for company officials,” the source said.
Before the pandemic, companies could make money by allowing their workers to pay them not to come to work so they could earn more doing other jobs.
The wages provided by the government in North Korea are not enough to earn a living. Thus, under a program called “8.3”, named after a policy put in place August 30, workers can pay fees to their companies to let them go. earn money elsewhere.
In North Hamgyong Province, some companies are accepting payments to let much of their workforce go to sea during the summer to catch squid, according to the source.
“It’s squid fishing season right now, but workers are not allowed to go out to sea because of the coronavirus, so no one wants to do work 8.3. So companies don’t have any reserve funds to buy farm equipment, ”the source said.
Another North Hamgyong official told RFA that some of the machine factories there have been ordered to make human-powered rice threshers.
“It’s a simple machine where a person can beat the rice by turning pedals like a bicycle,” said the second source, who requested anonymity for the purposes of speaking freely.
“The government really cares about the big farms in Hwanghae Province, which is considered North Korea’s breadbasket. low in comparison, ”the second source said.
While most farms in northern Hamgyong have threshers, they cannot use them due to frequent power cuts and lack of spare parts, the second source added.
“That’s why farms need bicycle threshers, which don’t require electricity. But even the best-equipped machine factories don’t have the parts and materials to make them, so they have to go out and buy them themselves, ”the second source said.
“They have to buy welding rods, iron plates, rebar, bearings and machine belts to make the bicycle threshing machine, and they need a lot of money to put all of these things on the machine. market, but there are no spare funds this year. , so they have to collect money from their employees, ”said the second source.
RFA reported last month that North Korea started cracking down on workers who left their employers to earn money in other jobs, even sending them to labor camps.
Also last month, authorities ordered companies and factories to provide grain for pig feed, forcing some companies to collect grain or mash from their employees.
Businesses, factories and their workers have also been ordered to cultivate and supply agricultural labor, as the country’s rulers began to tout a strategy of self-sufficiency in anticipation of what could become. one of the most difficult economic challenges since the famine of the 1990s.
Reported by Chang Gyu Ahn for the RFA Korean service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.