By Siqi Tian
On the 175 kilometer Reunification Highway from Pyongyang to Kaesong, the bus passes empty fields with the occasional scarecrow. There is no modern farm machinery or equipment, no sign of mechanization at all. A few scrawny cows roam near the road and in the distance small herds of goats pass.
Mostly mountainous, only about 18 percent of North Korea’s landmass is arable. And much of that is what the Chinese call cinnamon soil, a beautifully coloured but highly acidic soil that is difficult for cultivation.
Most North Koreans don’t get enough to eat and rates of stunting from malnutrition are still high. But a recent UN report said that food production is slightly up, particularly in rice production.
Because of North Korea’s songun policy, which means military first, national defense is the top priority.
But recent reports see hopeful reforms in North Korea’s Stalinist model of socialist agriculture, which includes state-run cooperative farms that surrender entire harvests and rationing systems.
Leader Kim Jong-un’s 6.28 policy involves radical restructuring and allowing families to keep percentages of their harvest, even selling leftover on the private market. Experts say these reforms are similar to China in the 1970s.
Last year, Kim Jong-un also ordered farmers to move from grain-fed livestock to grass-fed livestock, like rabbits and goats, to ease the strain on limited food supplies. Pig farms across the country quickly converted to goats.
International NGOs such as Oxfam, which has been giving food aid and farming assistance, have been operating in North Korea since the 1990s. Some, such as Doctors without Borders, have left because of tight restrictions by the government.