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North Koreans struggle to fulfill daily human manure quotas

Undated photo from North Korean News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting a Korean People's Army unit, in an undisclosed location, North Korea. Photo released August 2017. (Balkis Press/Abaca Press/TNS)
January 18, 2019
This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The North Korean government has decreed that every able-bodied citizen must turn in 100 kg (220 lbs) of human manure a day to be used for fertilizer, to bolster the agricultural sector.

Leader Kim Jong Un announced in his New Year’s address that the agricultural front would be the primary instrument for economic reconstruction.

“After Kim Jong Un’s [speech], the entire population has been mobilized to produce manure as the first major task of the year,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service on Sunday.

“The authorities in each local region task factories, institutions and citizens groups with assigning production quotas to each individual,” the source said.

“They are demanding that each person produce 100kg of human feces per day, or about 3 tons per month,” said the source.

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“But how on earth can it be possible for one person to make 3 tons of human feces and deliver it?”

While the collection of feces is a yearly task, high quotas this year are driving many to find interesting ways to collect human feces in the bitter cold, or to find ways to get out of their quota.

Some however, are critical of the government, saying the high quotas amount to a shakedown of the people.

“If you cannot fill the quota, you have to supply 300kg of compost or livestock manure instead,” the source added.

“Most people can’t [make or collect] 100kg per day, so they end up giving what they think is sufficient. The quota is therefore meaningless,” said the source.

“[The quotas] are the same in both the cities and the countryside because the quotas are applied to everyone evenly,” said the source, adding “When the city’s clothing and food factories are [operating at full capacity], workers will try all sorts of ways to fill the quota.”

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“Compared with last year, there’s a growing number of residents who are choosing to pay cash instead of providing the manure itself,” said the source.

In addition to paying cash, citizens can buy manure from merchants.

“The manure merchants are doing really well these days, charging 20 yuan (about $3) per 100kg of human feces or 300kg of compost,” the source said.

“Young women who work in restaurants and beauty parlors usually just pay cash, though,” said the source.

Another source, also in North Hamgyong province, said on Monday, “The residents of Chongjin City have been fully mobilized to fulfil this task.”

“Authorities are encouraging people to produce more manure, stressing that it provides a vital boost to the agricultural front, and thereby the socialist movement in general,” the source said.

“People are becoming increasingly dissatisfied though, as authorities are keeping production records for each person and putting pressure on those who haven’t produced enough [to fill their quota.],” said the source.

“In winter, there isn’t as much manure and compost. Cash payments exceed the value of the manure that actually ends up being delivered, so people are saying the regime is just using the quota as a means to collect more money from the citizens,” the source said.

“More than 80% of all the female workers in Chongjin’s clothing factory pay cash instead of manure,” said the source.

“People are angry, criticizing the regime for [deliberately setting quotas so high] to force people to pay cash, then claiming it’s for agricultural production.”