North Korea’s food problem has become a major concern nowadays. In the worst drought in 60 years, UN groups in Pyongyang foresaw that the harvest of hardy plants such as wheat and potato will be less than 20 tons: 40% of the estimated required sum.
Nonetheless, the food problems are not something new in North Korea. Hwang Jang Yup, a former secretary of the Korea Worker’s Party who sought asylum in the South, claimed that three-million have starved to death during the Arduous March. North Korea also lacks seven hundred thousand tons of food according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.
The regime is yet unable to solve the hunger problems of the general population despite this being 2012: the initial year of when then the North envisages becoming a ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’. To soothe their grievances, Kim Jong Un’s new leadership enacted a new measure to lift up its shamble of an economy.
The key points of the so-called 6.28 measures are as follows: first, the enactment reduced the number of workers in each tidal constituent, a basic unit of agricultural labor, from the previous 10~25 to 4~6 to operate as family farms; second, the regime will subsidize production costs to farms and firms; third, production benefits will be allocated between the authority and farms in a balanced proportion; last, production costs and purchase fees will be fairly calculated with application of market prices. The authority and each constituent will have 7:3 rations in dividing the final products, and if the production rates exceed the scheduled amount, the constituent will receive the extra. Such measures aim to excerpt incentives and enhance production efficiency.
Ultimately, the answer lies in at how much the authority will set the scheduled amounts. The regime issues schedules to collective farms annually. These schedules, however, seldom have any sense of reality. In Hwanghae province where uncountable numbers died from starvation, the region had to submit nine hundred thousand tons of grain each year just because it was the basket of North Korea. Also, considering Kim Jong Un’s firm stance on continuing Songun, there is a fair possibility that the regime will extort the promised 30% with the excuse of military provisions or capital provisions, which will be delivered only to Pyongyang.
The authorities are said to subsidize production costs to each constituent but there is neither capital nor fuel to execute a grandiose plan. Also, free enterprise is an absolute necessity if the constituents were to have extra crops but the socialist regime is unlikely to permit such radical actions. In reality, the North Korean regime enacted the 7.1 economic measures, which are similar to the 6.28 measures, but it ended up strengthening market regulation soon after. The distribution system was annulled only to be re-institutionalized three years later, and began selectively handpicking the sex and age of the entrepreneurs running businesses in Jangmadang. The regime flippantly retreated from all such measures when they feared the economic reforms may affect the regime.
The effects of Chinese agricultural reforms rapid were far different than those of North Korea’s. The Chinese authorities conducted a reform in such a manner where it distributed land to each individual and levied taxes, and consequently it was able to increase the agricultural production rate by 55% between 1979 and 1984. Reduction in the size of the constituent groups or giving the final say over extra products, rather than overall transition to private farms, is very limited by nature, and will not do away with food problems.
Recently, North Korean authorities released a number of articles stressing on the economy through the Rodong Shinmun. Also, the regime is airing the key points of the 6.28 measures through intra cable broadcasting. Therefore, people’s expectations of economic reform are on the wane.
The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Kim Jong Un’s leadership should never fool around with words. The North Korean regime should single-mindedly prepare for their expected downfall. By doing so, the regime can at least bring into reality the long-desired ‘rice with beef soup’ dream of the ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’.