Why People in N.Korea's 'Rice Bowl' Are Starving

Thousands of people are starving to death in North Korea's South Hwanghae Province even though it is the country's rice bowl, according to a defector.

"Villages in remote mountains can resort to slash-and-burn farming to survive, but in lowland areas where there are only cooperative farms, 30 to 40 people in each village starve to death every year," said Choi Myong-chol (not his real name), who used to handle crop harvests in Haeju, South Hwanghae Province. "The reason is that their entire harvest is confiscated," he told the activist website NK Reform.

The Tokyo Shimbun reported in April that 20,000 North Koreans starved to death in South Hwanghae Province after Kim Jong-il's death. "The reality there is that farmers have no choice but to hide rice during the harvest to survive," Choi said. This has happened every year. "This year, authorities appear to have taken extra measures to seek out rice the farmers had hidden," he added.

Choi said the reason for the starvation is the unrealistic crop output goals set by the regime every spring. Cooperative farms in South Hwanghae Province are ordered to produce six tons of rice per 10,000 sq. m, of which the farmers are promised two tons. But the actual amount that is harvested is only two to four tons, which leaves nothing for the farmers.

Harvested rice is distributed first to elite security and intelligence forces and then to ordinary soldiers. Farmers steal rice even under close watch because they would starve otherwise. They apparently steal between 1.5 to 2 tons per 10,000 sq. m of farmland, or about half of the crop. The regime is aware of the practice and sniffs out and confiscates around 30 percent of the stolen rice, leaving some 5,000-7,000 people to starve to death every year in the region.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 19, 2012 11:24 KST