The government of North Korea -- a country that reels under chronic food shortages and hunger -- is reportedly considering an overhaul of its farming and agricultural sector.
Under proposed reforms, farmers will be able to keep their surplus crop (and sell it in the market) instead of having to relinquish it to state authorities as before. The change is apparently an attempt by Pyongyang to provide an incentive for farmers to grow more food for the nation of 24 million people and to reduce reliance on expensive imports.
A source in North Korea told Reuters that farmers will now be able to can “keep and sell in the market about 30 to 50 percent of their harvest depending on the region.”
North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly will likely discuss the reforms when it meets on Tuesday.
The Associated Press reported that, if passed, the measure would represent the most dramatic policy shift in the new regime of the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, who took over nine months ago following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il.
In April, Jong-un openly admitted the country faces severe economic hardships and vowed to alleviate such problems.
The Daily Telegraph noted that the proposal represents a radical shift from Kim Jong il’s crackdown on private agricultural production in 2005.
Citing two farmers it spoke to, the AP said that the new rules may become effective during the imminent fall harvest.
“We expect a good harvest this year,” O Yong Ae, who works at Migok Cooperative Farm in South Hwanghae Province, in southwestern North Korea, told the AP.
“I'm happy because we can keep the crops we worked so hard to grow.”
North Korea’s giant neighbor, China, made similar policy changes in the late 1970s and early 1980s -- moves that eventually led to a dramatic boost to the country’s economy.
“Of course, a major difference between the two cases [North Korea vs. China] is that the vast majority of the Chinese population were farmers at the time,” said John Delury, an assistant professor at Yonsei University in South Korea who focuses on Chinese and North Korean affairs, according to the AP.
Noting that North Korea has fewer farmers and far less arable land than China, they “will have to find its own formula for successful development,” Delury added.
North Korea has long had difficulties in feeding its people. A devastating famine in the mid-1990s is believed to have killed up to 3.5 million people (more than one-eighth of the current population).
The United Nations estimated that North Korea needs about 5 million tons of potatoes and grain each year to feed its population, but local farmers cannot possibly meet this demand.
Some analysts are skeptical the new reforms will do much good for the populace.
“These reforms are designed to provide incentives to the farmers to produce more from their land and to help feed the country,” Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Japan, told the Daily Telegraph.
“It will be very difficult to change North Korea’s deeply bureaucratic system and enable farmers to be free. There is also the question of where they will be able to get fertilizers for soil that has been badly managed for decades, as well as modern farming machinery.”
“There is no way for farmers to be able to secure sufficient investment, and I expect these changes will simply lead to an explosion in the North Korean underground [black market] economy,” Shigemura added.