In the News – N.Korea Needs Bold Reforms to Feed Its People
North Korea has embarked on agricultural reforms, reducing basic farming units in some areas from the present 10 to 25 people to family units of just four to six, and increasing cash crops the farmers can sell in the market. These and other agricultural measures announced late last month appear aimed at boosting crop output through incentives.
There are unconfirmed reports that the agricultural reforms are being carried out on a trial basis in three provinces, with 30 percent of grain output being allotted to individuals.
North Korea has no choice but to bring about fundamental changes to farming if it wants to stop turning cap-in-hand to other countries to feed its people. In 1978, China scrapped its collective farming system, which North Korea emulates, and allowed family units to profit from their crop yields depending on output. Seven years later, incomes in farming communities had risen 2.5-fold. North Korea must waste no time in walking down that path.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged in a speech in April this year that he would make sure his people will never starve again. “It is our party’s resolute determination to let our people… not tighten their belts again and enjoy the wealth and prosperity of socialism as much as they like,” he said. The state media quoted Kim as vowing to build “an economically powerful state” and strive for the “improvement of the people’s livelihood.” The latest measures appear to reflect these pledges.
But North Korea announced similar reforms in 1997 that were also to have cut the size of each communal farming unit to seven to eight people and lowered the quota of crops that had to be submitted to state coffers. In 2002, the North announced measures to increase the amount of land farmers could use to produce crops they could sell in the market. But the regime each time scrapped the reforms shortly afterward because they had unwelcome side effects and purged the officials in charge of them.
The regime feared that the changes would cause the communal farming units to collapse entirely and undermine the state’s far-reaching network of informants and minders that had been keeping a close watch over the populace.
North Korea’s foreign policy in the coming months and years will be a good gauge of whether the latest reforms are temporary measures aimed at appeasing an increasingly disaffected population or whether they signal the start of major changes. The North will face severe limits to improving its economy as long as the international community upholds sanctions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must realize that he will never be able to feed his hungry people through window dressing.
In recent news, North Korea has prepared to launch a satellite into space. However, this move has been met with much antagonism by the United States because it seems to defy the motions of the United Nations should the satellite be a move to test missile technology that would one day send threats of nuclear warfare. The BBC’s broadcaster, Damian Grammaticas, who is based in Beijing, China, gained permission to enter North Korea at the time of this controversy, symbolic of the transparency with which the North Korean authorities intended to launch the satellite. In his BBC article, Grammaticas relates that the North Korean authorities wanted to launch the satellite in commemoration of the hundredth birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Throughout his article, “Exploring North Korea’s Contradictions,” Grammaticas describes his impressions of the North Korean landscape. Visiting the countryside outside of Pyongyang, Grammaticas emphasizes the emptiness of the roads and the bleakness of the empty shop windows as he exits the city. Of the city itself, Grammaticas relays, “Being here, in the world’s last Stalinist state, feels like being transported back in time. North Korea often looks like a place marooned, a survivor from an age when Soviet republics, with their strongmen rulers, were common.” He then continues the article with a explanation of the preparation Pyongyang’s people made for the celebrations that would enliven the next few days – city repairs were made, flowers were assembled, roadsides were cleaned, images of Kim Il Sung were hung throughout the city, plans for the launch of the satellite were being settled. Continue reading →
In the News – Lee urges N. Korea to carry out privatization of farmland
SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak on Friday urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up the collective farm system and privatize state-owned agricultural land to help enrich the North and its residents.
In a special lecture given at Seoul’s Education Center for Unification, Lee also called on the young North Korean leader to pay greater attention to the human rights and defector issues.
President Lee Myung-bak gives a special lecture at the Education Center for Unification in northern Seoul on April 20, 2012. (Yonhap)
“North Korea should abandon its collective farm system and shift to the privatization of agricultural land. If so, rice will be abundant in two to three years. Farmland privatization will help individuals earn more and the state increase revenues,” Lee was quoted by his spokesman Park Jeong-ha as saying in the lecture.
“(Farmland reform) is a must for North Korea. All the young leader has to do is the (reform). It is the most urgent matter and has to precede its market opening. Continued dependence on aid will only produce beggars.”
Lee went on to ask Pyongyang to pay more attention to the defector and human rights issues.
“Human rights is an issue as important as the North Korean nuclear problem. I believe what is most necessary for the North Koreans is human rights,” Lee was also quoted as saying.
“Bread is important. But in this 21st century, freedom of individuals is as important as bread,” said the president, noting it is getting increasingly difficult to maintain a dictatorial regime in this informatization era.