North Korea farm reforms: First step to a market economy?
North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-Un will allow farmers to keep – and sell – surplus crops, reports the Associated Press. The plan mirrors elements of China's farm reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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However, North Korea has maintained its confrontational stance toward much of the outside world, especially wartime enemies South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang continues to build and develop its nuclear program despite outside pressure to dismantle its atomic facilities in exchange for much-needed aid and international cooperation.Skip to next paragraph
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North Korea has a per capita GDP of $1,800 per year, according to the U.S. State Department, far below that of its neighbors in Northeast Asia, and its rocky, mountainous terrain and history of natural disasters has long challenged the Kim regime to provide enough food.
Founder Kim Il Sung created the country's farming system in 1946 by turning farms that had been private during colonial Japanese rule into collective operations.
At cooperative farms across the country, the government doles out fuel, seeds and fertilizer, and farmers pay the government back for the supplies, said Kang Su Ik, a professor at Wonsan Agricultural University.
The farmers' crops go into the Public Distribution System, which aims to provide North Koreans with 600 to 700 grams of rice or cornmeal a day. However, a persistent shortfall of more than 400,000 tons a year in staple grains has meant lower rations all around, according to the United Nations, which has appealed for donations to help North Korea make up for the shortage.
Under the previous system, each farmer could keep as much as 360 kilos of corn or rice a year to consume or sell at the market, in addition to what they grow in their own courtyards. The rest was turned over to the state to distribute as rations, Kang said.
The proposed changes would reverse the equation, challenging farmers to meet a state quota and then allowing them to do as they wish with the rest, including saving it for themselves, selling it at the local farmer's market or bartering it for other goods.
Farmers also would have more control over tending their plots. At Migok, 1,780 farmers work in teams of about 100. In the future, sub-teams of about 20 to 30 farmers are expected to have more say in how to tend their crops, said Kim Yong Ae, who oversees the visitor's center at Migok, where a patchwork of rice paddies stretches as far as the eye can see.
The new rules could be "a very important and constructive step," if they amount to real change, Marcus Noland of the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, said via e-mail.
O, who lives with her rice farmer husband and two young sons in Migok's Apricot Village, brightened up when she said the family expects a surplus this year. Migok was unaffected by the summer rains that destroyed farmland elsewhere in the country, and their private garden is bursting with fruit trees, vegetables and marigolds.
Still, she said they would probably donate their extra rice to the state anyway — an offering known in North Korea as "patriotic rice."
It's unclear whether the agricultural changes will be on the agenda when legislators convene Tuesday in Pyongyang for the Supreme People's Assembly. The gathering marks the parliament's second session of the year, a notable departure from the once-a-year meetings held during Kim Jong Il's rule.
The Presidium of the parliament did not announce an agenda, but Kim Song Chon, a Presidium official, told AP that legislators have been summoned to discuss domestic and foreign policy and to make personnel changes at top state bodies.
Follow AP's Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee at twitter.com/newsjean.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.