North Korea has alighted upon another “magical solution” to combat chronic hunger: eating black swans.
Last weekend, Ri Jong Nam, chief secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in the North Korean province of South Hamgyong, opened a centre for the rearing of black swans at the Kwangpho Duck Farm on the country’s east coast.
The ceremony, broadcast on state television, was part of a broader campaign to promote the consumption of black swans, as North Korea wrestles with a self-acknowledged “food crisis”.
Describing black swan meat as “delicious” and as having “medicinal value”, the ruling party’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper claimed it would “actively contribute to improving people’s lives”.
Black swan meat has also been extolled by state media as “an exceptional health food of the 21st century with a unique taste and extremely high nutritional value”.
Swans — black or white — are not known as a delicacy either in South or North Korea. But North Korea, perpetually struggling with chronic food shortages, has a history in promoting exotic meats as inspired solutions.
In the 1990s Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, responded to a devastating famine by promoting rabbit and ostrich meat as foodstuffs of the future.
“Instead of fixing North Korea’s food problems by incentivising farmers to raise their yields through market mechanisms and decentralised decision-making, or bringing in food imports for the things they can’t practically produce at home, the government instead looks for magical solutions — and swans are just the latest iteration of that,” said Peter Ward, a Seoul-based North Korea expert at the University of Vienna.
“Market incentives are an ideological taboo, and politically potentially quite problematic. It is classic Soviet-style thinking, and it would be comical if it weren’t for the level of hunger in the country, which is worse now than it has been for a long time.”
A few weeks ago, Kim demanded that officials improve North Korea’s living standards, acknowledging the “unprecedented difficulties” and “grim situation” faced by the country.
North Korea is labouring under the combined effects of international sanctions, self-imposed border closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and a miserable harvest after crops were damaged by heatwaves and flash flooding.
According to Seoul-based news service NK News, money coupons produced by the North Korean central bank are proliferating throughout the economy.
The increase in coupons, said analysts, indicated both possible ink and paper shortages as well as the effects of a crackdown on foreign currencies that began before the onset of the pandemic.
Last week Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, told reporters that the country’s hunger crisis was worsening, with children, the elderly and prisoners at the highest risk of starvation.
“Even prior to the onset of the pandemic, over 40 per cent of the people were food insecure, with many suffering from malnourishment and stunted growth,” said Quintana.
“The number of homeless people and street children is increasing. Those discharged from compulsory military service and returning home have no jobs, income or food to survive,” said Quintana.
Despite its economic problems, development of North Korea’s illicit missile programme appears to continue at pace. This month, it conducted its first test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile since 2019.