As I have observed in previous posts, the timing of North Korea’s supposed policy changes in agriculture—when the situation appears to be deteriorating—is a puzzle. Does the regime have the patience to the see the reforms through? Or as urban food shortages intensify will it revert to form and send in the military to forcibly seize grain and in the process undercut whatever credibility the regime has? A recent story from the Daily NK suggests that my concerns are not without basis.
Reporter Lee Sang Yong writes that plans to do pilot project reforms in a limited number of isolated counties (not nationwide reforms that reporting by AP suggested) have been postponed until next year. An unnamed source is quoted in the piece as saying “Cooperative farm cadres are saying that none of the experimental farms will be given 30% of their production this year because it has become difficult to meet the target. They are saying that the harvest is not good and they need to feed the military as a matter of priority, so first they’ll guarantee the military rice then give the rest to the farmers… They are saying that the state does not have enough rice right now and that there is no choice but to give it to the military, so please try to understand. Farm workers, many of whom had been buoyed by talk of food distribution, are really disappointed, especially since prices are sky high in the market these days.”
With the caveat that with all things North Korean hard facts are elusive, this narrative, if true, really makes one wonder about the decision-making capacity at the top. Were they so uninformed about actual conditions beyond Pyongyang that they rolled out a policy and then immediately had to backtrack? (Their unwillingness to compromise with Seoul and remove the irritant of the food aid loan non-payments really makes one wonder if this not the case.) Or do they simply not understand the ramifications of their own policies? Or as Josh Stanton has argued, is it all an elaborate ruse?