North Korea has embarked on agricultural reforms, reducing some collective farming units and increasing cash crops the farmers can sell in the market.
According to an informed source, basic farming units in some areas have been cut down from the present 10 to 25 people to family units of just four to six. These and other agricultural measures were apparently announced late last month.
The source said a set amount of land, farming equipment and fertilizer have been distributed to family units, and they have been given greater rights to sell their crops in order to motivate them. Until now, the regime allowed farmers to sell only surplus crops raised on communal plots, but output always fell below targets.
"The measures appear to allow North Korean farmers to hand over a set ratio of their crops to the state and dispose of the rest as they wish," said one high-ranking defector from the North.
North Korea set up a collective farming system in 1958, but the structure virtually collapsed due to devastating famines during the mid-1990s. The regime now apparently allows some factories to sell surplus output as well.
"Since last week, North Korean broadcasts have announced that leader Kim Jong-un has decided to undertake economic reforms to radically improve the lives of the people," the Daily NK, a website specializing in news about North Korea, reported quoting a source in Chongjin. The area, on the North's border with China, was one of the worst-affected areas during the famine.
"Agricultural reforms are being carried out on a trial basis in three counties, and 30 percent of grain output will be allotted to individuals," the source said.
Some see the measures as a precursor to full-fledged economic reforms by North Korea, but a South Korean intelligence source was more cautious. "To my knowledge, no other developments have been detected yet other than the agricultural reforms being implemented in certain areas," the source said.