All Report

N.Korea Food Shortage: Not a matter of absolute shortage, a matter of distribution and access – 2

ISHIMARU Jiro – Chief Editor/Rimjin-gang


Homeless Kotchebi girls hang around the market all day begging for food. (January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by Kim Dong-cheol. (January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by KimDong-cheol) (C)ASIAPRESS

Homeless Kotchebi girls hang around the market all day begging for food. (January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by Kim Dong-cheol. (January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by KimDong-cheol) (C)ASIAPRESS

Another woman had come across the border from Pyongyang. She told me in another interview how the food situation is getting more acute even in the country’s capital.

“Even Pyongyang citizens, who are very privileged compared with other cities, have not received food rations since last autumn. Everybody has to earn their cash by doing private business to different degrees. Those who do business in the market are compelled to submit rice for the military.”

Kim also recorded the scene of a quarrel in the market, when an officer responsible for the market fights with a woman merchant as he tries to compel her to give rice for the military.

Kim’s market images prove that quite a large amount of rice is being sold. White rice, corn, pork and liquor bottles are on display in the open-air market.

So, while the North Korean state growls about the military-first policy which prioritizes the military above all else, while soldiers suffer from serious hunger and Pyongyang citizens do not receive their food rations, large amounts of food is still being sold in the market.

Food sold in the markets is privately-owned, of course. On the other hand, (malfunctioning and inadequate) rations for the military and other state institutions are state-owned. This shortage of state-owned food reveals that the North Korean regime is faced with serious financial problems. The food which is running out during Bori-koge is state-owned. So it does not mean that all the food in North Korea has been eaten.

* The North Korean food issue is not a matter of absolute shortage; rather it is a matter of distribution and the food rationing system, which is the responsibility of the state.

These people who have been abandoned by the state rationing system are begrudgingly permitted to engage in trade. They get access to food by paying cash for it in the market.

On the other hand, those who cannot cultivate any kind of business and have to rely only on the rationing system for access to food, such as middle- and lower-ranking soldiers, quickly become malnourished when state-owned food runs short.

Kim's market images prove that quite a large amount of rice is being sold. Sacks of white rice and corn on display in the open-air market.  (January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by Kim Dong-cheol.(C)ASIAPRESS

Kim’s market images prove that quite a large amount of rice is being sold. Sacks of white rice and corn on display in the open-air market.
(January. 2011. North Pyongan Province, by Kim Dong-cheol.(C)ASIAPRESS

The government cannot feed the military and Pyongyang citizens from agricultural renders alone. When food runs short, this shortfall has to be imported on commercial terms, with money which the government does not have, or it must set its eyes on the “privately-owned” rice in the market.

Thus, they compel merchants to contribute rice for military procurement. On top of that, they ask the international community for food aid.

In fact, the current food shortage issue in North Korea can be attributed to the following causes;

1: The financial distress of the state.

2: People having no way to get cash income. Ordinary citizens engage in few business activities.

The ultimate solution is for the government to adopt a policy of reform and opening, of course. This is required to guarantee the people’s economic activities. However, it won’t come about in a hurry.

This June, there is the possibility that the international community, especially South Korea, the U.S. and EU, will launch food aid missions to North Korea. Most of the socially vulnerable, including the elderly, sick, disabled or pregnant, infants and children do not have methods by which to earn a living. They have great difficulties accessing food even though it is on sale in the market. As a result, many could become malnourished and then, in the worst-case scenario, starve to death.

There is no doubt that aid is necessary for these socially vulnerable people. The question is how international relief can reach those in need. It is important to demand that the North Korean government promise to abide by rules governing food distribution monitoring to prevent embezzlement and siphoning off by other institutions. For that purpose, international missions should be guaranteed free monitoring activities at every station and level.

I would like to propose that all responsible institutions and parties including the United Nations and NGOs negotiate with the North Korean government to construct a framework allowing for direct aid to beneficiaries.

In addition, we must lobby the North Korean government to permit UN institutions and NGOs to hire the necessary personnel for aid activities directly at every location.

By creating employment opportunities in this way, many will get cash income, and from that will come broader access to food in the market.


*** Rimjin-gang

– Back to PART 1 

Back to Report >>

Rimjin-gang (English Edition First Issue) RELEASE NOTE
Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

ARCHIVE(pdf) >>

Related post

  1. Women from rural areas cart wood harvested in the mountains to cities. April 2005 (ASIA PRESS) <Inside N.Korea> Kim Jong-un Ord…
  2. Two university students in the standard white shirt and red tie. Pinned to their chest a red badge of the North Korean leaders and the school seal. (Photo taken in a regional city in North Korea. June, 2013) ASIAPRESS University Students Are Bored Wi…
  3. <Inside N. Korea> Expansion of t…
  4. <Photo Report on N.Korea> N.Kore…
  5. Rimjin-gang – Editor’…
  6. Rice displayed in the market. Chinese rice can be found here, but people prefer domestic rice and corn which is rather expensive. (Taken by Kim Dong-cheol. January 2011, suburb of Pyongyang) (C)ASIAPRESS Exemplary-contributors Praised A…
  7. A booth of "Taedong-gang beer". (Sep.2011/Gu Gwang-ho) 〈Photo Report- 8 (b) 〉 The Best …
  8. Chang Sung-taek is standing in a dignified manner beside Kim Jong-un who is visiting the training field of the mounted company under the direct control of the 534 troops. A number of videos or photos of the day showed that Kim Jong-un and Chang Sung-taek rode horses along with Chang’s wife Kim Kyung-hee or Kim’s sister Kim Yeo-jung. Chang could be viewed as a major figure in the sacred royal family through the footage showing “a day of horse riding by the royal family.” (Quoted from November 19, 2012 of Chosun Choongang Press) Jang Song-thaek’s Ambition Refle…


Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province. September, 2013  ASIAPRESS N.Korea Market Survey Reveals Basic Food Price Hike PHOTO1 N.Korea IT Report – PART1: Kids Master Emoticons and Movies with Mobile phones A bottle of domestic "penicillin", made at the Suncheon medical factory. ASIAPRESS Embezzled UN Aid Circulates in N.Korean Underground – End to Free Healthcare, Illegal Abortions Widespread A political assembly held by a KWP regional branch that took place a half year before the purge of Jang Song-thaek. The ranking officials discussed and addressed the people's allegiance and dedications to Kim Jong-un. (Summer/2013/ASIAPRESS) Possible Firing Squad Executions Punish Violators of “Kim Jong-un’s Instructions” This picture is taken from raw video footage captured in Sosong District, Pyongyang in the summer of 2006. Female students are assembled near the Three Revolution Exhibition museum to practice for a military parade in honor of Kim Jong-il's birthday. Each student is wearing a white shoulder-cloth inscribed with a consecutive number. (Lee Jun / Pyongyang / August 2006) ASIAPRESS The Truth Behind N.Korea’s Military Parades 〈Photo Report- 6 (a)〉 The Government’s Command is for a “Strong and Prosperous Nation” — but Workers Tired Out at Pyongyang Construction Sites to Build 100,000 Apartments

Korean   Japanese


Rimjingang_facebook Rimjingang_twitter Rimjingang_YouTube

New Report

  1. [Video Report] Chinese products and currency are playing a vital role in North Korean market
  2. <Photo Report> Kotchebi, the Homeless, Under the Kim Jong-un Regime (PART2) Toddler worn out on a street while regime shows off luxury orphanages
  3. <Inside N. Korea>Market Price Since Imposition of New Economic Sanction
  4. <Photo Report> Kotchebi, the Homeless, Under the Kim Jong-un Regime (PART1) A girl and a boy–probably siblings–sleeping on a street
  5. [Video Report] What do the ordinary people eat in North Korea? There are many types of food sold at hawker stalls. (Hawker stalls are individually owned food stalls)
  6. <New Year’s Report from N.Korea> Kim Jong-un’s Reputation Continues to Fall: Citizens Critical of His “New Year Address.”
  7. <Inside N. Korea> Bank Card and ATM Appear in Local Cities. Split Responses; “Convenient” and “Still Can’t Trust the Government.”