According to RFA's sources in North Korea, five farmers have been sentenced to disciplinary labor for hiding corn slated for redistribution to state supplies.
Farmers are concerned about the yearly grain redistribution this year, given the predicted lackluster autumn harvest. Every farmer receives 60% of their yield from the government, leaving them with 40%.
In most years, their share is insufficient to support them, but this year could worsen, with yields in some regions 20 percent lower than predicted. As a result, many farmers seek ways to go around the system, according to a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang who spoke to RFA's Korean Service.
"Five farmers were discovered hiding corn during an unscheduled inspection a few days ago. "They were each sentenced to five months in a disciplinary labor center," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.
"Because each farm receives distribution based on yield," the source explained, "the amount of distribution for farmers will inevitably be reduced."
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, North Korea is expected to be short 860,000 tons of food this year, or approximately two months' supply.
According to a source in the agriculture industry in the country's northeastern province of North Hamgyong, the lower production this year could mean farmers only get five or six months' worth of food for next year.
"Farms around the country have been calculating how much of the harvest they will receive since the beginning of October. They anticipate a lower distribution than usual, and they are concerned about how they will survive next year with so little food," added the second source, who asked to remain anonymous for security concerns.
The second source stated, "The farmers' livelihood is intimately tied to the redistribution because they work on the farm all year."
Because government pay is insufficient to exist in North Korea's developing market economy, most individuals work second jobs. Farmers, on the other hand, do not have time to work anywhere else. Thus the harvest is their life or death.
The government's plans to seize a larger crop share this year might leave farmers with only two months' supply of food, while military and other grain beneficiaries will receive their full rations.
"Grain silos and outdoor stores have already been decommissioned... As a result, the situation is aggravating, and it's eating them up on the inside," added the second person.
According to the second source, the coronavirus epidemic has significantly detrimental impacts on North Korea's farm industry and food situation.
North Korea was left to its ways to produce enough food after Beijing and Pyongyang closed the Sino-Korean border and banned all trade at the start of the epidemic in January 2020, with no Chinese imports to fill gaps and no access to foreign fertilizer or farming equipment.
According to the second story, the shortage of farming materials boosted prices, and farmers fell into debt, pledging to repay their creditors with food from the fall crop.
"This will further reduce the redistribution to the farmers." They worked hard all year to produce as much grain as possible, but the quantity they will receive back this fall will be insignificant, so they are disappointed."
North Korea's food situation is complicated.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, warned in March that the closing of the border and limitations on people's travel could lead to a "serious food crisis."
"Starvation deaths have been reported," according to the report, "as has an increase in the number of children and elderly people who have resorted to begging because their families are unable to support them."
Authorities warned people in April that economic hardships might be as catastrophic as the 1994-1998 famine, which killed millions, possibly as much as 10% of the population, according to RFA.