chapter  2
The economy
Pages 57

The World Food Programme’s executive director, James Morris, is currently visiting Pyongyang . . . The North Korean government is demanding an extraordinary reduction in the programme’s normal monitoring. The United States has responded by cancelling a scheduled grain shipment, citing concerns about diversion with the expected departure of WFP monitors. As aid began to flow in the mid-1990s the North Korean economy began to marketize from the bottom up. The state was increasingly incapable of providing food through public channels, and the market gradually became the principal means of distribution. This shift, together with inexpertly enacted economic reforms, has given rise to a problem of chronic food insecurity, which afflicts perhaps 30 per cent of the population, concentrated among the industrial proletariat. Now there are disturbing signs of a return to the command economy, with the revival of food rationing and a ban on trade in grain. There is evidence that the revived public distribution system is again being used as a tool of control, with favoured state employees provided with enhanced access to food in preference to the vulnerable populations targeted by the WFP. The government is reneging on supply-side reforms as well. Reports of grain seizures harken back to previous episodes of severe food distress in North Korea. Far from solving the food problem, these seizures have exacerbated shortages as farmers seek to protect themselves from a predatory state through pre-harvesting, hoarding, tending secret plots and diverting output to illicit markets.