North Korean authorities are going from farmhouse to farmhouse to check if farmers are hiding any unregistered cows, threatening to send the contraband cattle to work on collective farms, sources in the country told RFA.
Owning a cow without registering it with the government is a crime in North Korea, where cattle have been considered a means of production to be owned and managed by the government, and lent out to businesses and people, like farmers, as needed.
However, a few years after leader Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011, the government instituted policies giving farmers the responsibility to raise their own cattle, register them with the state, and use them to plow the fields and for transportation — all while still making them available for cooperative farm work.
Under the so-called Responsible Farmland System, the state retained the power to grant the farmers the field they worked but it was relieved of the responsibility of providing them the means to plow the fields.
But farmers have been breeding their own cattle and have stopped registering them, a resident of Ryongchon county in the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service March 17.
Authorities are now cracking down.
“From yesterday, the cooperative farms in Sosok village have been sent to investigate privately owned cattle, under the direction of the county and led by the Farm Management Committee,” said the source who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“They went house to house. The cattle were classified and registered as either having or not having a nose ring. The cows with nose rings are eligible to be mobilized at cooperative farms for plowing,” the source said.
In the city of Chongju, in the same province, a resident explained how the Responsible Farmland System, which began in 2015, had originally been seen as a setback for the farmers.
“At that time, they had to borrow the cooperative farm-owned cattle to plow. There were many complaints, as they had to pay for the cattle with their autumn grain rations, so they saw it as a deduction,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“Some of the farmers solved the problem by buying calves from the cooperative farms and raising them on their own. Since then, calf trades among the farmers are on the rise and are common these days,” she said.
Since the whole point of the Responsible Farmland System was to collect more grain from the farmers, the authorities simply allowed them to register and own the cattle, but then the farmers started using them for purposes other than farming, the second source said.
“Many of them found that they could earn more money by using the cattle to haul goods to the market for merchants by oxcart instead of merely plowing fields. So now there are lots of cases where the farmers are raising cattle for personal income,” she said.
Shortly after the Responsible Farmland System began, privately owned cattle still needed to be registered under a cooperative farm, the second source said.
“My cousin registered his calf with the management office, but he uses it for his personal income. He even built a cart for his calf by himself. There are many individuals who trade calves between themselves. One small calf is traded between 300,000 to 400,000 won [U.S. $50 to $67],” she said.
“More personal cattle are now used to make income after they are registered, and it’s now becoming normal for cows to be owned and used without registration at all. This is why the authorities are taking measures to discover privately owned cattle,” she said.
After discovering unregistered cattle in the investigation, the collective farm will be able to mobilize all cattle in the area for its own spring plowing.
“The farmers are now complaining that the government did not help them feed or raise the cattle but now they get to use the cows for cooperative farm work without compensating the farmers,” the second source said.
According to both sources, this is the first time that the authorities have taken measures to count these privately owned animals. Once a cow is registered with the state, the cattle can be called into service whenever the farm needs it, even if it is not farming season.
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