This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea is forcing factories to raise pork for the country’s huge military, and imposing pig feed grain quotas on workers who are already struggling to stay fed after 18 months of coronavirus measures have frozen trade with China and choked the economy, sources in the country told RFA.
The cash-strapped Pyongyang government has long struggled to supply the military with food and basic necessities and has increasingly shifted the supply burden onto the people, while also forcing work units to raise livestock and families to grow their own food and donate labor.
“State run factories in the province are building new pig pens and raising piglets these days. It is because the authorities have imposed a pork quota to each factory to provide meat to the Korean People’s Army by the end of this year,” a resident of South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service Aug. 2.
“The bigger the factory is, the more pork they must produce, so the officials of the larger factories are deeply concerned because they have to raise a lot of pigs to meet the quota, and there is a serious shortage of pig feed,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Factory workers are complaining about the pork order, which requires each employee to provide five kg (11 lbs.) of rice bran for the pigs each month.
“The workers are complaining, saying, ‘When it is so hard even for people to find food to eat, where could we possibly get rice bran for pigs?’” the source said.
“As workers’ complaints mount, the factory officials pester them to donate 10 kilograms of mash, the sediment leftover from homemade alcohol brewing, if they don’t have rice bran,” said the source.
Though technically a waste product, mash is commonly sold as animal feed and is an integral part of many of the workers’ household incomes.
The factory workers’ official salary is nowhere near enough to support a family. That responsibility falls upon spouses who run small businesses to raise cash.
“The workers complain, ‘Wives make hooch at home to make money, but the profit mainly comes from selling the mash. If we have to give it to the factory to feed the pigs, what can we depend on for a living?” said the source.
“Mash is usually sold to pig farmers at a price usually 1/30 that of the price of corn,” said the source.
Another resident of South Pyongan told RFA that factory workers in Songchon county have had to donate to the pork plan since last month.
“Each factory needs to expand its pig farms and raise the fastest growing pigs to supply the planned amount of pork before December,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“The meat support plan for the army already mandates 10 to 15 kilograms of meat per year for cooperative farmers nationwide, but the authorities are now including workers in state-run factories to provide pork in the second half of the year, saying they need to improve the diet of soldiers,” the second source said.
The second source said that the factories are now going into the alcohol business to solve the feed problem, but that is putting even more burden on the workers.
“There are growing complaints among factory workers as they must provide five kilograms of corn as raw materials for alcohol production,” the second source said.
“Workers criticize the authorities’ policy that burdens them with providing corn for pigs, when there is not enough corn for people due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said the second source.
A quarter century after famine killed as many as a tenth of North Korea’s 23 million people, the food situation in North Korea is again dire, as cross-border trade with China has been suspended since January 2020.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in a recent report that North Korea would be short about 860,000 tons of food this year, about two months of normal demand.
The forecast followed a warning from U.N Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana in March that the closure of the Sino-Korean border had led to reported “deaths by starvation” and growing ranks of children and elderly who have resorted to begging.
North Korea’s total military personnel of 1.47 million in 2018 ranked it third in the world that year, behind only China and India, and the country remains technically at war with South Korea and its ally, the United States.
According to 2019 data from the CIA World Factbook, North Korea spent between 22 and 24 percent of its GDP on its military, or roughly U.S. $3.7 billion to $4.2 billion each year between 2007 and 2017.