The farmers’ crops go into the Public Distribution System, which aims to provide North Koreans with 600 to 700 grams of rice or cornmeal a day. However, a persistent shortfall of more than 400,000 tons a year in staple grains has meant lower rations all around, according to the United Nations, which has appealed for donations to help North Korea make up for the shortage.
Under the previous system, each farmer could keep as much as 360 kilos of corn or rice a year to consume or sell at the market, in addition to what they grow in their own courtyards. The rest was turned over to the state to distribute as rations, Mr. Kang said.
The proposed changes would reverse the equation, challenging farmers to meet a state quota and then allowing them to do as they wish with the rest, including saving it for themselves, selling it at the local farmers market or bartering it for other goods.
Farmers also would have more control over tending their plots. At Migok, 1,780 farmers work in teams of about 100. In the future, subteams of about 20 to 30 farmers are expected to have more say in how to tend their crops, said Kim Yong-ae, who oversees the visitors center at Migok, where a patchwork of rice paddies stretches as far as the eye can see.
The new rules could be “a very important and constructive step,” if they amount to real change, Marcus Noland of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, said via e-mail.
Mrs. O, who lives with her rice farmer husband and two young sons in Migok’s Apricot Village, brightened up when she said the family expects a surplus this year. Migok was unaffected by the summer rains that destroyed farmland elsewhere in the country, and their private garden is bursting with fruit trees, vegetables and marigolds.
Still, she said, they would probably donate their extra rice to the state anyway — an offering known in North Korea as “patriotic rice.”
It’s unclear whether the agricultural changes will be on the agenda when legislators convene Tuesday in Pyongyang for the Supreme People’s Assembly. The gathering marks the parliament’s second session of the year, a notable departure from the once-a-year meetings held during Kim Jong-il’s rule.
The Presidium of the parliament did not announce an agenda, but Kim Song-chun, a Presidium official, told AP that legislators have been summoned to discuss domestic and foreign policy and to make personnel changes at top state bodies.