Kim Jong Un has threatened North Koreans with punishment if they waste food as the country struggles to feed its population following this year’s floods.
‘Strong legal punishment’ awaits those who fail to protect the socialist economy and the welfare of their comrades by wasting food, a new directive from the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party says.
It comes after three consecutive typhoons in August in September that destroyed farmland and crops, as well as the savage economic impact of the coronavirus crisis and biting economic sanctions.
China has already this year donated vast stockpiles of crops and 550,000 tons of fertiliser to its poverty-stricken neighbour – considered humanitarian aid and not subject to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
North Korean farmers work in the fields near Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, on April 15, 2017
‘At the beginning of this month, the Central Committee ordered residents to actively participate in solving our food crisis this year as part of a food-saving struggle,’ a source told Radio Free Asia, a US government-sponsored outlet.
‘The order emphasized that the struggle not only solves the problem of how we will eat, it is a matter of protecting the socialist system. It also warned that authorities will step up crackdowns and punishment for any actions related to food waste.’
The source from North Hamgyong province noted a significant decline in grain production which, even in an ordinary year, North Korea struggles to harvest enough of to feed the nation.
Since January, all trade with the outside world has been suspended due to the pandemic, including the land border to the north with China.
It comes as North Koreans look to New Year festivities which are usually celebrated with an abundance of food at the family dinner table.
The Central Committee has ordered ‘not to set the ceremonial table with foods made from grains.’
Kim’s government suggests only fruit and vegetables should be served, while guests ought to be served noodles only – rice cakes and bread are strictly off the menu.
A second source, from the rural Ryanggang province, told RFA: ‘Inspectors are stationed on roads just outside the downtown areas to check passing cars, carts and even luggage carried on people’s backs, to ensure people don’t transport grain.
‘Food prices are rising in the market as grains are forbidden, and this threatens residents.’
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 19th Meeting of the Political Bureau of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), in this image released by North Korea’s Central News Agency on October 5, 2020
In May, experts estimated that North Korea was short of around 860,000 tons short of the 5.5 million it needed to feed its people.
That estimate was made before the floods which are believed to have destroyed 200,000 tons of crop.
South Korean government sources told Japanese paper The Asahi Shimbun that China has donated between 500,000 and 600,000 tons of food along with the fertilizer this year.
It also shipped another 600,000 tons of corn and other grains between June and August, Chinese sources told Asahi.
Famine is a constant threat in the isolated country which suffered a period of mass starvation in the 1990s remembered officially as ‘The Arduous March.’
A general economic crisis from 1994 to 1998 brought on by the withdrawal of Soviet support was compounded by flooding and drought.
It is estimated that of its 22 million population as many as 3.5 million North Koreans died because of the famine, which peaked in 1997.
That year the country’s minister for agriculture, So Kwan-hui, was accused of spying for Washington and sabotaging the country’s farms.
He was executed by firing squad.
In 2011, a US report stated that excess deaths from 1993 to 2000 were between 500,000 and 600,000.
Other estimates say that 240,000 died as a result of ‘The Arduous March.’