Conditions of Agricultural Productionin North Korea in 1946-49

Conditions of Agricultural Production
in North Korea in 1946-49

Mitsuhiko Kimura

Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies
Kobe University
2-1 Rokkodai, Nada, Kobe, Japan 657

July 1996

Acknowledgments: This work benefited from financial supports of Ministry of Education in Japan, Zenkoku Ginko Gakujutsu Kenkyu Shinko Zaidan, Matsushita Kokusai Zaidan and Korea Foundation. The author greatly appreciates assistance of these institutions. Also he is grateful for encouragements, comments and assistance of, to name a few, Chung Jae-jong, K. Weathersby, C. J. Eckert, Pang Son-ju, Huh Su-yol, V. Pechatnov, K. Odaka, Yi Tae-gun, F. Goto, Y. Hamaguchi, R. Hagiwara, H. Sakurai, Lee Chong Sik, Chong Song-il, M. Yanagihara, Ko Song-hun, Yi Chae-un, An Pyong-jik, Yu Myong-ch'ol, US National Archive, US Library of Congress, Yenching Library at Harvard University, Economic Research Institute at Seoul National University and Kukt'o T'ongilwon.


This paper discusses conditions of North Korean agriculture after Liberation using internal documents of various organizations in North Korea such as the Workers' Party. The agricultural policy of the government was distinctly socialist from the beginning. This generated inefficiency while failing to overcome the extensive bottleneck in production. The outputs did not increase as indicated in the official statistics.

In March 1946 Provisional People's Committee of North Korea (founded on 8 February 1946 as an acting government and succeeded by the Government on 9 September 1948; hereafter, PPC) pushed land reform and officially abolished the landlord-tenant system continued down since centuries ago. The tenant farmers obtained the title to the farm land as the result and became "free holders". This was followed by a reform of agricultural taxation. Meanwhile PPC proposed a plan for planting main crops to be harvested in the autumn of that year (Decision of PPC, no. 7, 15 March 1946, Kukp'yon 1988, 238-241). This plan aimed at the same planted areas in total as realized in 1939. Thereafter, the First People's Economic Plan was devised for 1947, followed by the Second for 1948 and the Third for 1949/50. The first two plans were very ambitious in prescribing agricultural development; the annual rates of increases in the planted areas for grains and their outputs were set, respectively, at 16.9% and 18.6% for 1947 and those of the outputs of grains and raw cotton at 13.5% and 210.2% for 1948 (Chosen Jijo Kenkyukai 1956, 64-72). The plan for 1949/50 toned down substantially in this respect.

What impact did these plans have on the management of North Korean agriculture? More specifically, did the plans merely act as a guide or an encouragement to the farmers as a whole, or, on the contrary, did they bind each farmer in specific manners? If the latter was the case, it implies that the basic principle in North Korean agricultural production in this period was set by planning, not free enterprise as often thought. I discuss this question first and further explore into conditions of agricultural production between 1946 and 1949; main topics are taxation, state purchase and factors in production. The analysis below heavily draws on the internal documents of the North Korean administration, which were captured by the US military during the Korean War period.

The production plans and
the organizing of collective farm work

Chisi: The collection of captured materials contains a large amount of instructions (chisi) on farming and related topics such as agricultural taxation, sent by the upper levels of administration to the lower in Kangwon Province. Corresponding reports from the levels below and independent decisions and records of discussion on the same topics at various levels are also abundant. These documents indicate serious attempts of the administrative organs to execute planning in agriculture. Specifically, establishing production plans for each farmer and organizing farmers into groups for each kind of farm work were a major concern of the administration. An early attempt of them is revealed in the instructions that the North Korean Communist Party Kangwon Provincial Committee delivered to its divisions in each county on 9 April 1946: (a) to organize "model farmers" into production brigades, saengsan tolgyok-dae in each community and mobilize all farmers for spring tilling, (b) to organize the community meetings, purak hoeui and set up plans for crop raising and (c) to notify, on the basis of the production plans, the farmers "the responsible output" for each crop, thus putting the production responsibility system, saengsan ch'aegim-je in operation (2007/6/16: 12-14).

Events in Rinje County: The operation of these instructions is depicted in detail in a Decision of NKWP (North Korean Workers' Party) Standing Committee in Rinje County in Kangwon Province on 20 March 1947: each community and each individual bears responsibility for planting crops on the basis of the production plans; cells in the villages discuss and decide production plans and execute them perfectly by mobilizing the Farmers' Union and they also organize the farmers' gathering, nongmin taehoe; cells lead each farmer to set up his own production plan, and organize the collective work groups, kongdong chagop-pan and further mobilize the production groups, saengsan-ban and the brigades, thus overcoming labor shortages in planting, p'ajong and transplanting, iang (2007/6/10: 88-89).

On the production responsibility the document summarized below gives firsthand information.

Title: On the Agricultural Responsible Outputs for 1947 Date of issue: 16 April 1947
From: the chairman, the NKWP Rinje County Committee
To: the chairman, the NKWP Kangwon Provincial Committee
Main contents:
The responsible outputs assigned to Rinje County for 1947:
paddy 30,560 sok ( a 9% increase over the harvest in 1946, 28,070 sok)
coarse grains 37,843 sok (a 147.6% increase over the harvest in 1946, 15,246 sok).

Particularly as to the planted areas in dry fields, the areas surveyed in order to determine the responsible outputs for each individual are 4,852 chongbo vis--vis the planned ones 7,773 chongbo; so we cannot determine the responsible outputs for each individual and have a great trouble. We request you to take appropriate measures to correct this (2007/6/10: 77-78).

As seen, an excessive norm in production was assigned to the villages and, in turn, to the farmers by the provincial administration. The excess was enormous for the coarse grains. Because this was obviously too large, the Provincial Committee revised it downward later (25 April 1947, 2007/6/5: 22; 2012/8/5: 28). The intention of the Committee is clear: to assign farmers the responsible outputs greater than their capacity, especially for main grains, thus realizing as much production increase as possible. Farmers had to follow this. Once final decisions were made on the goal, they were demanded to make full efforts to surpass it (6 February 1947, 2012/5/146: 50). They could express complaints about the upper decisions at a community meeting or the farmers' gathering only at the risks of being criticized or worse punished or ostracized (13 November 1948, 2012/5/141: 96). To control the planting by individual farmers the Committee ordered the county administration to distribute to each farmer kaein-byol saengsan chisiso (the document directing production to the individual) and lead him to fill in the back of the paper the planted area in his field for each crop (1 June 1947 and May 1947, 2007/6/10: 44, 72). The county administration was also ordered to monitor the process of tilling and planting in each field and report it regularly. Further a joint responsibility system was introduced so an unfulfilled responsibility for planting in a ri (hamlet) was borne on another ri (1947?, 2007/6/10: 86).

In organizing collective farm work a total of 501 production groups were created in Rinje County as a whole by 11 June 1946 (2007/6/16: 126). They had 23,272 members in total, thus covering almost all the adult residents in Rinje County, inhabited by about 33,000 people (2007/6/16: S., 1). In Simjong-ri in this county the ratio of members of the Farmers' Union to total farm households reached 100% by 3 April 1947 and all these members, 169 males and 166 females, were organized into a total of 18 production groups and 42 people into 4 brigades (2012/5/141: 107). Other than these, many different groups were created in Simjong-ri to conduct specific farm work such as weeding, transplanting, harvesting, threshing and carrying (1948?, 2012/5/146: 87, 92, 109). A document titled "Tables on organization of the first stage weeding and transplanting groups" presented a number of names of farmers and work load for each of them in weeding and transplanting (1949?, 2012/5/146: 92; also, 5 October 1946, 2012/5/141: 141). Working en mass for production of green manure was also very frequent in each ri in Rinje. For each kind of the farm work above the county office set a time schedule and the Peoples' Committee and the Farmers' Union in each ri mobilized the farmers according to this schedule (16 June 1948, 2012/5/148: 73-74). To push this, competition among communities or groups was organized (20 April 1950, 2012/5/146: 75).

Other regions: How can other provinces be compared to Kangwon Province in this context? We are not sure of what was happening in the other regions, but, because decision making of the North Korean administration in this period was highly centralized, the phenomena in Kangwon above very likely represented those in the nation. Some evidence exists. (i) Cabinet Decision no. 10 on 2 February 1949 pointed out that planting of crops tended to be assigned to farmers "mechanically"; for instance, quotas of planting cotton seeds imposed on farmers in various areas such as Chunghwa County in South P'yongan Province and Tanch'on and Chongp'yong County in South Hamgyong Province (2005/2/114: 2). (ii) PPC Anju County Division in North P'yongan Province ordered its myon divisions to secure planted areas for the autumn barley for 1947 and, for this purpose, to mobilize kongjak-won (agents); it warned them not to expand the planting in the fields unsuitable for it, as had been done in the previous year; in this county detailed plans were established for mobilizing farmers to conduct transplanting; also manure production was imposed on individual farmers and for this, chagup piryo saengsan sidalso (the document directing production of home-made fertilizer) was constructed (2 August 1949, 2006/14/77.1: 14, 15, 17). (iii) A direction of manure production similar to that above was issued in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province (21 April 1949, 2010/1/169: 14-15). (iv) On the organized collective farm work Cabinet Decision no. 10 above stated: "... in utilizing the cattle, organization and management of the plowing group (so-gyori-ban) was partially irrational ... [F]armers conducted cooperative work without a principle and helped lazy guys ... For example, in Unsong County in North Hamgyong Province..." (op. cit.)

Further, we note an official publication counting saengsan-ban and tolgyok-dae in each province in 1946. In Table 1 the former totaled 79,489 and the latter 16,764, each consisting of 1,274,243 and 486,318 members. These members accounted for 78.1% and 29.8% of the total households, respectively. This indicates substantial progress in organizing saengsan-ban, covering most farmers in the nation. (Note that the total households included non-agricultural as well as agricultural households.) Regionally, saengsan-ban was organized at the highest rate in South P'yongan Province, a central province surrounding P'yongyang. On average it was composed of 10-30 people in all but North Hamgyong Province, while tolgyok-dae 13-50 people in each province. Compared with the other related figures the members of saengsan-ban in North Hamgyong totaled too small in number to be taken as they are.

All in all, though not enough to clarify details of regional variations, documentary evidence shows that from an early date in 1946 onward the production assignments and the organized collective farm work played an important role in the operation of agricultural planning across North Korea.

The agricultural taxation

Taxation in law: On 10 October the North Korean Communist Party adopted Decision on Problems with Land and on this basis pushed for the movement reducing the rent on farm land to 30% of the harvests (the so-called seven-three principle). On the other hand the colonial land taxes remained as they were, which were paid in cash by owners of land in proportion to the officially set rental prices of land. On 27 June 1946 PPC issued Decision on the Agricultural Tax in Kind (Decision no. 28, Kukp'yon 1988, 318-319). This represented a major agricultural reform along with the land reform. It abolished the colonial land taxes and instead introduced hyonmul-se, taxes in kind, at 25% on all grain outputs. It also stipulated that there should be no quasi-taxation, such as kongch'ul (requisition or forced purchase of grains), which was imposed on Korean farmers by the Japanese administration during the Pacific War period. In May 1947 the tax rate was revised (Law no. 24, Kukp'yon 1988, 379). It was differentiated among crops: for paddy, 27% (of the output), for grains in dry fields, 23%, for cotton, hemp, tobacco, poppy and hop, 23%, for vegetables in general and other crops for industrial use, 10 kg of grains per tan (approximately 0.1 ha), for the vegetables produced by specifically designated farmers, 23% or 20 kg of grains per tan and for fruits, 25%. The outputs from shifting cultivation were taxed at 10% and those from newly reclaimed farm land were tax-exempt for three years. The tax on potatoes was allowed to be paid in coarse grains other than beans at a fixed conversion rate (substitute grains, taegok).

In 1946 and 1947 many supplementary decisions and ordinances were announced in connection with hyonmul-se. For example, Ordinance on the Extraordinary Account of Food Grain Management was issued on 12 August 1946 (Decision no. 94, Kukp'yon 1988, 340-341). This put the responsibility on each Provincial Peoples' Committee for establishing the budget for hyonmul-se (the collection and expenditure program) by the end of October in the previous year. Another one, Regulation on Collection of Hyonmul-se, consisting of 35 articles, decided procedures of collection of the tax at each stage of administration, putting requirements on the peoples' committees in myon to submit reports daily and those in kun every five days (Regulation at Food Grain Policy Department, no. 2, 1 June 1947, Kukp'yon 1988, 383-387).

Taxation in practice: Until now no close examination has been made of this taxation in practice. One might assume that because tax base was gross outputs, not income and the rate was flat, this taxation was simple, and easy to practice. In fact, however, there were many difficulties and complexities involved in it.

First, North Korean farmers were not cooperative with the tax administration. They tried to evade hyonmul-se whenever they could. This is not surprising. They were no exception to the rule that no one is willing to pay taxes. Also many of them failed to understand why they could not retain all of their outputs as they were liberated from Japanese colonial rule and also from the bond of the landlord (the Central Committee of Democratic Youth Union, 6 November 1946, 2005/5/53: 11; Rinje County, July? 1946, 2007/6/16: 130). This is endorsed by the repeated attempts of the administration to make the farmers acknowledge the necessity of hyonmul-se for nation building and the difference between this tax and the Japanese kongch'ul (Kukp'yon 1988, 345; Hyonmul-se Sonjon Yogang, 1946?, 2012/5/148: 154).

The farmers cultivating their own farm land since the colonial period had a more substantial reason for evading hyonmul-se. Aside from the 1943-45 period when the colonial administration requisitioned a large amount of rice and barley, the agricultural taxation was not heavy for the Korean owner farmers in general in the late colonial period. The land taxes became much smaller in value in relation to the total agricultural outputs in the 1930s than in the 1910s when it was created. Statistics showed that the land taxes in total were 1.9-4.1% of the total value of the agricultural outputs in the 1934-40 period (Government-General 1944, 64, 354-6, 376, 386). Adding the agricultural income taxes to the land taxes increased the overall tax rates significantly but they were still 18% in the highest recorded year, 1936 (ibid.). Because a large part of the income taxes above fell on big landlords, the total tax burden to the owner farmers in relation to their gross outputs fell considerably below 25% in the late 1930s. Thus the introduction of hyonmul-se put these farmers, who accounted for 25% of the total North Korean farmers in 1942 (Government-General 1944, 42), at a disadvantage. The same applied to the former part owner-part tenant farmers (23% of the total farmers: ibid.), depending on the size of the farm land each had owned before 1946. The farmers engaging in shifting cultivation (4.5% of the total farmers: ibid.) were also put at a disadvantage because they had hardly paid land taxes during the colonial period. The increased tax burden afforded these farmers a strong motive for the evasion.

Delivering poor quality products as hyonmul-se was a common way of tax evasion. Also, because the tax standard was set by weight, stuffing products not dried or mixing gravel in the delivery bag throve. To prevent this the administration had to make close inspection of the products collected as hyonmul-se (for instance, instructions of P'yongyang City Office on 16 September 1949, 2005/7/58: 75). This complexity arose from the very nature of hyonmul-se, a tax in kind.

The shortcoming of this taxation appeared in other areas as well. A large number of straw bags and ropes were needed for delivery. Before 1945 they were mainly produced in rice cropping areas in the South, and the North relied heavily on the supply from the South. This supply was cut in 1945. Thereafter the administration tried to boost domestic production by assigning production quota to each farmer as it did to increase planting of main crops. Yet raw straw was in short supply and poor in quality in the North so the outputs did not increase as planned. Transporting and storing were another heavy task of the administration because here, too, shortage was acute - the capacity of these services fell far short of overall demand (Pak 1988, chap. 1). In addition, the administration had to watch stuffed delivery bags in the warehouses and open fields closely, to keep them from raiders or natural depreciation. In Rinje County in 1947 all night shift was implemented to guard the warehouses (5 January, 2007/6/10: 125). The penalty for the raiding was very heavy - even capital punishment was imposed (Decision no. 46, 22 July 1946, Kukp'yon 1988, 326; also see Decision on Control of Stored State Grain Foods, 2 February 1947, ibid., 374-376).

How to assess the harvest: Tax assessment was a major source of conflict and distrust between the tax administration and the farmers. To determine the tax amount for each crop for each farmer the committee for harvest assessment, suhak p'anjong wiwonhoe was created in each ri. Two components were involved in assessment of the harvest: planted areas in total and average output over these areas, usually indicated by yield per tan. The committee was instructed to measure each rigorously. For instance, the People's Committee in Anju County issued Nongjang-mul P'ajong Myonjok Silt'ae Chosa Yogang (The Basic Principle in Surveying Planted Areas of Crops) (23 May 1947, 2006/14/74: 9-15). This assigned the committee to measure the planted area by walking actual steps and not to miss any piece of planted areas, even that in footpaths between fields. In total calculation kanjang-mul (in-between crops) was included fully when some crop was planted together with maize in the same fields, thus double-counting the planted areas in total. Facing such a strict policy, farmers devised excuses for underrating the planting areas while trying to hide their actual planting (23 August 1947, 2007/6/10: 7 August 1947, 2006/11/83: 12).

In assessing yield per tan, the committee was supposed to apply p'yongae-bop inherited from Japanese administration, that is, cutting a matured head of the crop grown in a "standard field", which would represent the whole field in terms of the prospects of harvests, and counting grains in it. This method meant to increase accuracy of the assessment of yield. However, the yield assessed by this method largely depended on selection of the standard field and this could be done arbitrarily. The upper administration repeatedly issued instructions to apply this method strictly while imposing heavy penalty- a term of 5 year imprisonment at maximum - for arbitrary assessment (Decision of the Central Committee of the Farmers' Union in 1949, 2012/5/146: 94; PPC Decision no. 46, 22 July 1946, Kukp'yon 1988, 326). This suggests that on many occasions p'yongae-bop was a mere formality if practiced at all, thus failing to enhance credibility of the harvest assessment. Indeed a Decision of the Farmers' Union in Sohwa-myon in Rinje County revealed: "From a technical viewpoint, planted areas [or] yields per tan for each grain were not actually surveyed but hyonmul-se was assessed on the desk so real agricultural conditions could not be appreciated and fairness lacked in the imposition [of hyonmul-se] on each farmer." (5 October 1946, 2012/5141: 141.)

State purchase of farm products - songch'ul and sumae

State purchase of grains was initiated after the autumn harvest in 1945 (Sahoe kwahak-won 1981, 403). This was called Ryanggok Songch'ul Undong (the Movement for Dedicating Food Grains) and developed in connection with the movement reducing the rent on farm land mentioned above. On 20 August 1946, PPC officially announced plans for state purchase of grains (Decision no. 63, Kukp'yon 1988, 343-344). This purchase, sumae was to be conducted in cash or in barter trade with salt, chemical fertilizer, cotton cloths, matches and other industrial products. The North Korean Consumers Cooperative assumed the responsibility for this trade.

In principle, farmers' voluntary participation was a basis for both songch'ul and sumae, because forcible purchase of farm products was banned by Decision on Agricultural Tax in Kind above. Yet, in fact, the state purchase was enforced on farmers from the beginning. This was admitted officially. "[Songch'ul] was partially distorted in its operation...and was carried out forcibly, without paying prices." (Sahoe kwahak-won 1981, 404.) On sumae in 1946 PPC stated: "... though the purchase of grains [by the North Korean Consumers Cooperative] is supposed to be conducted on a basis of farmers' voluntary participation, the Cooperative is currently pushing it in forcible and bureaucratic manners, eDg., assigning quota to each farm household. This is a serious error." (Decision no. 140, 26 December 1946, Kukp'yon 1988, 362-364.) Further, PPC disclosed that "because of the bureaucratic way of doing, only 8% of the planned purchase has been realized since the program was started a month ago" and eventually adopted the following specific decisions (ibid.): (a) the chairman for each of the Provincial People's Committees must call meetings of chairmen for the various organizations at lower levels by 10 January 1947 and develop this task of purchase on an absolutely voluntary basis, resorting to patriotic consciousness of farmers and connecting it with the Full Mobilization Movement for the State Foundation Thought, Kon'guk Sasang Ch'ong-dongwon Undong, (b) the heads of the Industry Bureau, the Commerce Bureau and the Finance Bureau assume the responsibility for supplying to the Cooperative the industrial products to trade by 30 December while the head of the Transportation Bureau does the same for transporting these products in first priority and (c) the heads of the North Korean Public Prosecutors' Office and the Public Order Bureau assume the responsibility for monitoring this task and capturing those who oppose it or buy up the goods. These decisions expressed a determination of the central authority to accomplish the planned purchase of grains.

After 1946, contrary to the decision (a) above, forcible sumae increased as the administration strengthened rations of food grains to nonagricultural households in cities and villages. Farmers were demanded to sell extra products first to the state. In Rinje County the administration stressed the necessity of piryo kyoyoku, i. e., trading fertilizer with grains and pushed it (4 May 1949, 2012/5/141: 54). In Kumhwa County in 1950 the administration was instructed to propel piryo kyoyok as planned (2012/5/153: 24).

Sumae was not limited to grains. Raw cotton, silk worms and straw products were important items for sumae since the early period. In particular sumae of straw products was indispensable for the administration because they were used for bagging and carrying industrial products such as chemical fertilizer as well as farm products. In a later period sumae expanded in variety, including meat, skins and even edible wild plants and used rubber and metal products (13 September 1949, 2005/7/58: 59; 30 May 1949, 2012/5/148: 49). After 1949 farmers had quotas of meat imposed upon them according to the acreage of their cultivated land (for paddy fields 9.5 kg per chongbo, for dry fields 5 kg per chongbo, Cabinet Decision no. 189, 22 December 1949, 2005/2/114: 159).

The enforcement of sumae implies that the terms of trade were unfavorable for farmers by comparison with the trade in the market. This added to tax burdens to farmers, raising rates of taxes on grains above 23-27% of total outputs.

Total deductions from grain outputs

Statistical records and other evidence: What amounts in total were then deducted from grain outputs for hyonmul-se and sumae? Table 3-1 reproduces from Decision no. 63 total amounts of grains to be purchased in each province in 1946 and compares them with the corresponding official statistics on grain outputs. The planned purchase of rice accounted for 5.4% of total outputs in all North Korea. Regionally, it differed significantly. The highest percentage was in North Hamgyong, 10.2, while the lowest was in Kangwon, 4.2. For coarse grains the percentage was higher than that for rice in all but North Hamgyong; overall it was 10.2. Thus according to the plans sumae increased total deductions from outputs of rice to 29-35% and those from outputs of coarse grains to 33-38% in 1946. Since the official statistics on total grain outputs were, as will be discussed later, biased while all the planned purchase may not have been materialized, the figures above do not accurately indicate real deductions for hyonmul-se and sumae from the outputs. However, they are suggestive of the state policy of collecting 30% or more of total grain outputs through the taxation and the purchase.

Records of taxation in some regions reveal more on this point.
(i) Sonch'on County, North P'yongan Province
Reports of NKWP Democratic Youth Union in Nam-myon in Sonch'on County contained various data on individual farmers producing grains in 1946: the name of the household head, areas of paddy and dry fields, harvests, the amounts of hyonmul-se, the size of the household, consumption at home, seeds used, surplus and sumae and also fertilizer quota. Table 3 summarizes the data on hyonmul-se and sumae. In it, first, the outputs were taxed at different rates, exceeding 25% in most cases. Coarse grains were in general taxed at higher rates than rice. Some households paid as much as 90-100% of the outputs in taxes. Second, many households had some amount of sumae imposed upon them. For some, the quota was quite large - when combined with hyonmul-se, more than 60% of rice outputs were deducted.
(ii) Tonghung-ri, Yonp'o-myon, Hamju County, South Hamgyong ProvinceK
A file of documents produced by the People's Committee in Tonghung-ri included two sheets of paper marked "kukp'i" (strictly confidential), a record on the results of the autumn harvest in 1948. These sheets mentioned names of 18 farmers and, for each farmer, party affiliations, areas of paddy and dry fields, harvests of grains, the amounts of hyonmul-se and other burdens, fees, quantity of loaned fertilizer and short remarks. Sumae was not recorded distinctly. Though not clarified in the document, the fees were probably charged for irrigation services (see discussion below). Table 4 summarizes the burdens of the taxes and the fees to individual farmers. In it taxes exceeded 25% of the total outputs for 16 farmers and the excess was over 5 percentage points for half of them. The fees ranged from 3.5% to 8.2% of the outputs. The highest rate of the taxes and the fees combined was about 40% of the outputs while the lowest slightly fell below 30%.
(iii) Rinje County
A statistical report of NKWP in Rinje County in 1946 showed that rice and coarse grains produced in each myon in this county were both taxed almost exactly at 25%, implying that the taxation agreed with the Decision (Table 5-A). Meanwhile Table 5-B expresses advancement of sumae. On 29 November, the chairman for Rinje County Division of NKWP reported to the chairman for Kangwon Province Division of NKWP that he had consulted relevant organs and decided to set quota of sumae at 3,090 sok in total. He at the same time announced his determined intention to accomplish this quota by the end of 1946. However, actual purchase did not proceed quickly; according to another report only 227 sok was purchased by 3 December. It seems that the planned purchase was decreased to 1,095 sok by 10 December. This plan was completed by the end of the year. Thus sumae increased total deductions from outputs of rice to 28.1% and those of coarse grains to 30.0%.

The statistics in Sonch'on County and Tonghung-ri above were produced according to the instructions of the upper administration to convey basic information on the economy of individual farmers. Some of them were written in quite coarse letters while inconsistency existed among the figures. Some figures, such as the maximum 90-100% rate of hyonmul-se in Sonch'on, seem too extraordinary to be real. Thus more analysis is needed to clarify what exactly the statistics above implied. Still, the basic features in them are suggestive, that is, first, deductions for hyonmul-se in percentage of the total outputs differed significantly among villages or individuals and second, total deductions for the tax and quasi-tax combined generally reached 30-40% of the outputs and rates even higher than this were not unusual.

Though the land reform drastically reduced the disparity of asset holdings between landlords and farmers, it did not wipe out the differences in farm economy, which largely depended on the size and composition of family, land productivity and the acreage of land under cultivation, among individuals. An inter-village or regional disparity of farm economy was also substantial. This differentiated individuals, villages or regions in taxability. Poor farmers could have paid only a minimum amount of taxes. On the other hand some farmers were doing well, having a larger taxability. For these farmers the actual tax and quasi-tax burden tended to become heavier.

The over-assessment of harvests was common as a means of heavier taxation, as defectors from the North to the South in this period testified on many occasions (for instance, Kukp'yon 1979-81). If the harvests of rice were over-assessed by 40%, this pushed up total deductions for hyonmul-se to 38% (27% x 1.4) of the harvests. In the plain areas where taxability was higher, PPC ordered the local administration to develop "the movement for surpassing the plans for hyonmul-se" (Decision no. 120, 26 November 1946, 2006/11/83: 16). Such movement probably led to the over-assessment of the harvests in fertile lands. Also, sumae, taegok and other taxes and fees were used to increase deductions from grain outputs even further. Taegok was imposed on farmers and practically became additional taxes on grains. In 1949 the tax office in Chung-ku in P'yongyang ordered its divisions in ri to collect hyonmul-se on vegetables in beans because more beans were needed in factories for manufacture of soy sauce (19 November 1949, 2005/7/58: 103). Other taxes and fees were diverse in kind, and farmers had to give up grains they produced to pay for them; this multiplied their dissatisfaction with the tax administration (22 May 1946, 2005/4/45: 7; also Kim 1979, vol 3, 16). Irrigation fees were apparently higher than the others. In September 1946 all the irrigation facilities were nationalized and thereafter the administration charged the fees for their service. Cabinet Decision no. 54 put the fee at 200 kg per chongbo (26 October 1948, 2005/2/114: 31). This was equivalent to brown rice 0.106 sok per tan (assuming that the fee was indicated in paddy), adding 3.0-5.3% to tax burdens in the field that would produce 2.0-3.5 sok per tan.

From this point of view it is unlikely that the rates of hyonmul-se reported in Rinje indicated real tax burdens to the farmers. It is more reasonable to assume that the legal rates for hyonmul-se in the statistics were made up just for reporting whereas the actual rates were higher, to a varying degree for each individual. Indeed an instruction sent by Peoples' Committee in Kangwon Province to its county divisions pointed out that because hyonmul-se was imposed mechanically, as prescribed in the budget, its burden in practice differed among regions or farmers in its jurisdiction (27 June 1947, 2007/6/10: 18; also Kim and Yi 1990).

State policy: Documents show that the central administration tried to collect from the producer as large an amount of farm products as possible. The official publication cited above described: "In North and South Hamgyong Provinces farmers re-surveyed the 1945 harvests and thereafter convened a general community meeting and extensively developed a struggle for dedicating all the rest [of food grains], leaving 3 hap 5 chak (500 g) per day [per person for themselves], ... gathering edible wild grasses and chayon singryo (natural food), thus making up for the shortage." (Sahoe kwahak-won 1981, 403.) Similarly, an instruction of the Central Committee of Democratic Youth Union issued on 6 November 1946 stated: "Every member should become a propagandist who publicizes minimizing home consumption as far as 75% after hyonmul-se is paid is concerned... and according to the state policy [he should lead farmers] to sell the portion at [their] disposal to the Consumers Cooperative." (2005/5/53: 12.) In the same year PPC adopted Decree on Control of Food Consumption Saving (Kukp'yon 1988, 354-355). In it farmers were demanded to save on food consumption. Thereafter instructions were repeatedly issued by the administration at various levels that farmers should not indulge in wasteful consumption of food. In reality most farmers did not have much surplus food; some even could not support themselves. Those instructions reflected the fact that the farmers resisted the administration by eating up the stock of food grains before it was requisitioned.

Despite this austere food policy, however, we should not assume that the consumption of food grains was uniformly cut to a minimum level for every farmer. The ability of the administration was too low to monitor all the harvests and trade profits and to check the tax evasion of well-to-do farmers. Specifically, during this period power struggle continued both in the central and the local administration and this increased confusion and inefficiency in the tax administration. Also favoritism, corruption and abuse of authority existed. For instance, those who were close to the local power center could have had a variety of privileges including informal tax exemption that were unavailable to those who were isolated from it.

A rapid increase in production?

Statistics: Table 6-A summarizes official statistics on grain outputs in North Korea between 1944 and 1949. After Liberation the outputs of all kinds of grains combined grew sharply, by 40% in 3 years. Both land productivity and planted areas increased, the former pushing up the total outputs by 13.3% and the latter by 26.5%. Was this growth real?

A large increase in outputs often happens when the production starts from a very low level. One may take the growth above as an examle of this because the outputs in total in 1946 fell considerably below those in 1944. Yet the statistical base is too fragile to sustain this view. Some problems stand out. As shown in Table 6-B, yield of rice per tan in 1946-9 averaged 1.52 sok. This was higher than the average yield, 1.46 sok, during 1936-40, when outputs of rice reached a peak under Japanese rule. Such a high yield is very unlikely to have been achieved in a chaotic decolonizing period. Further, the published statistics above do not agree with the unpublished ones, which, presented in Table 2 above, were compiled earlier and circulated only among high-ranking officials. Underlying this were "structural" problems with constructing statistics. First, as discussed earlier, the taxation in kind tended to distort the official evaluation of total outputs. Second, the sharp confrontation with the South gave the North Korean government a strong motive to exaggerate its achievement in agricultural as well as industrial development. Third, this government constantly suffered from inaccurate or false reports on planted areas and harvests of various crops from the regional administration (for instance, Cabinet Decision no. 10 above). Inaccuracy seems to have been unavoidable since units measuring the outputs were not standardized in surveys in each villages. Specifically the output of rice was expressed in paddy in some surveys whereas in brown rice in others; also kama (straw bags), sok and kilograms were used randomly to indicate it.

In short the official statistics do not afford us a correct idea of what happened to North Korean agricultural production in this period. For this we need to examine conditions of this production closely, especially on the basis of documentary materials.

Labor force and fertilizer: Given natural conditions, basic techniques and the stock of supporting infrastructure, agricultural outputs depend on the quantity and quality of inputs: arable land, labor, machines or instruments and intermediate products such as seeds and fertilizer. In Korea there were increasing constraints on some of the inputs above toward the end of the colonial period. Male farmers were mobilized for the industrialization and cattle was requisitioned and shipped to Japan. This caused shortages in labor and cattle for farming. More serious was a shortage of chemical fertilizer. There was an industry producing nitrogenous fertilizer specifically ammonium sulfate in Korea (Chosen Chisso or Choson Chilso Co. in Hungnam) but its capacity was too small to meet the total domestic demand. Supply of phosphate fertilizer decreased after the mid-1930s because the Japanese Empire almost totally depended on foreign phosphate and this eventually stopped coming to Japan.

After Liberation a part of the industrial labor force returned to farms and also Korean migrants in Manchuria came back to North Korea. This increased stock of farm labor force. On the other hand Japanese agricultural engineers left. The land reform caused exodus of various groups of people to the South, including skilled owner-cultivators. Comparison of statistics between 1944 and 1946 shows that inhabitants in counties in four northern provinces, that is, North and South P'yongan and North and South Hamgyong, decreased slightly in total (from 5,502,000 to 5,391,000; Government-General 1944, 10-15, 83; Hallim Taehakkyo 1994, 20-29). Though this is not a proof because statistical errors were probably significant in 1946, it suggests that on balance decolonization did not have a substantial effect on the stock of labor force as a factor in agricultural production.

Supply conditions of chemical fertilizer did not improve after 1945. There was practically no domestic factory production of phosphate and potash. Outputs of ammonium sulfate increased from 117,500 tons in 1946 to 324,200 tons in 1949, according to the official statistics (NTIS 1960, 31). Yet the outputs in 1949 were still smaller than those in 1944 (437,600 tons: ibid.). Even though there were no shipments of these products to the South and Japan after 1945 the outputs were too small for North Korean farmers as a whole. In addition, the produced ammonium sulfate was not delivered to each village at the appropriate time because of the shortage of carry bags and lack of transportation (3 December 1947, 2012/5/148: 51; Kim 1979, vol. 5, 216). There was another problem. The fertilizer delivered to the village was not fully used by farmers even though shortage was felt by everyone. As mentioned above farmers had to sell grains to the state to get the chemical fertilizer. Some farmers had no extra grains to give up while some others did not wish to accept the unfavorable terms of trade (Rinje, 1949?, 2012/5/141: 42; Tonghung-ri, January 1949, 2010/1/169: 12; Kumhwa, April 1950, 2012/5/153: 24). In any event conventional fertilizers such as compost and green and human manure were much more important for the farmers. These fertilizers were produced by farmers themselves, using natural materials in and off the fields, so labor inputs of farmers determined the total amount of these products. This leads us to another question on conditions of the post-colonial agricultural growth: did North Korean farmers work harder after Liberation than before?

Working harder?: Up to now many have asserted that the former tenant farmers worked harder under the new regime because they became "the lord of land" for the first time in Korean history and were assured of obtaining all their products after paying the taxes at the fixed rates. It seems true that the tenant farmers exulted when they were granted the title to the farm land as a result of the land reform. Yet, importantly, this title was actually quite weak. The farmers were strictly prohibited from selling, leasing or mortgaging the redistributed land to anyone, by the Land Reform Act (Article 10, Kukp'yon 1988, 230-231). If they became incapable of cultivating the land or stopped engaging in farming for some reason, they had to return the land to the state. That land was then redistributed to other farmers. This implied that the private property right was practically not established to the redistributed land. The ownership was in effect transferred to the state, and the farmers were only afforded the right to cultivate the land (Kim 1959, 8; Kimura and Chung 1995). Thus the land reform did not radically change the position of farmers in landownership and it would not have taken long for them to notice this fact. At the same time they were not certain that even this weak title would be secured in the future; the new regime was unstable as yet and there was much rumor that the land would be recaptured by former landlords supported by US and South Korean forces. Meanwhile, as discussed above, abuse was frequent in taxation and sumae. Farmers without close ties with the authority would have feared that if detected extra amounts of the outputs would be heavily taxed or otherwise forced to sell to the state at a very low price. The disposal of farmers of their own products was indeed severely limited.

These observations arouse considerable doubts about the validity of the assertion above. There is yet another reason for rejecting it. The increase in the collective farm work blurred the connection between the labor inputs of each farmer and his private reward at the time of harvest. Interestingly, some administrators in Rinje County recognized that the organized collective farm work was detrimental to ch'angbalsong (creativity) of individual farmers (16 April 1947, 2007/6/10: 24-25). On this basis they issued an instruction to ban a forcible organization of the production group (ibid.). Later, in 1949, the Farmers' Union in Rinje County adopted a Decision based on the same recognition as the instruction above, which contained the following specific decisions: to rationalize disorderly organized production groups, thus encouraging farmers for more production, to abolish the farming method based on collective work while leading farmers to accomplish their task by their own work and to eradicate phenomena of puhwa (deceptiveness) and nat'ae (laziness) and lead the farmers to become kullo nongmin (industrious farmers) who would make an effort for rich cultured life (29 January 1949, 2012/5/141: 69). These instructions, however, did not represent a major trend of the policy formulated at the upper administration.

The documentary record above suggests that the farmers as a whole did not work harder out of patriotism or public interest despite the repeated appeal of the state. Nor did the production responsibility system work. In general either public interest or compulsion cannot take a place of private interest in enhancing the intensity or efficiency of labor. It does not seem that North Korean farmers made an exception to this rule. Indeed documentary evidence is rich of formalism and lack of discipline and interest in farm work among them. Typically, as Cabinet Decision no. 10 in 1948 stated, "[farmers were] not interested in producing compost - there are many examples in various regions of putting unmatured green manure in the field or leaving raw straw as it is... though every piece of farm land must be tilled deeply in order to gain good harvest there are tendencies in many regions toward tilling shallow or only half or even no tilling at all but doing only planting." (2005/2/114: 11.)

Other disadvantages: There were disadvantages for agricultural production in other areas as well. Cabinet Decision no. 29 revealed shortages of goods essential to agricultural production: "At present, in villages... carriages, plowshares, improved sickles and other implements were in short supply so that there is not a little trouble with increasing agricultural production... In 1949 supply of insecticide met only 53.3% of total requirements. Moreover... insecticide was manufactured after the appropriate time for its use passed... [B]ecause the quicklime was put in straw bags it was for the most part damaged and became unusable." (7 February 1950, 2012/6/137: 28.) In addition seeds not only fell short of requirements but also tended to deteriorate in quality (Anju, 2 August 1947, 2006/14/77.1: 18; Cabinet Decision no. 10 above). A negative impact of decolonization on farming should be noted here. It arose from cut-off of supply of Japanese finished and semi-finished industrial products, collapse of trade network sustained by Japanese merchants and institutions and expulsion of landlords who also played a role in providing for farming, such as agricultural implements, intermediate goods and foods. In the short run neither the North Korean administration nor the Soviet could fully make up the supply gap created by decolonization.

Any remarkable advantages?: Were there then no advantages in agricultural production in this period? One may note two factors: foreign assistance and construction of irrigation. These advantages, however, cannot be highly appreciated. The Soviet dispatched agricultural engineers to North Korea only in limited numbers. Moreover their knowledge and experiences were not very useful for North Korean agricultural development because its conditions largely differed from those in Soviet Union. Material assistance was hardly extended to the agricultural sector in North Korea in this period. On the other hand the construction of irrigation was actively pushed by the government after Liberation. This expanded total paddy fields. Yet it did not increase total arable land as much because the expanded paddy fields partly resulted from conversion from dry fields. Further for this undertaking (and also for construction of roads, bridges, docks and other public buildings such as schools) a large number of farmers were mobilized and this deprived them of time and energy for farming (for instance, riparian work on Pot'ong River, 19 October 1946, 2005/5/53: 16).

In sum, to our present knowledge we cannot indicate exactly at what rate grain outputs in total grew after 1945. However, there is good reason to believe that they grew much more slowly than the official statistics indicated. Though positive growth was likely in view of the initial low level of production, the high growth rate in the official publications was most probably a fiction. A reasonable hypothesis is that planted areas increased largely because the government forced farmers to accomplish all the planned planting. This could have been done at a substantial sacrifice of yield per tan, given that inputs of labor and other factors did not increase in proportion to the increased planted areas. Suppose that the yield dropped by 10% between 1946 and 1949 while the planted areas increased as shown in the statistics. This implies that the grain outputs in total increased by only 16% in 3 years, not 40% as announced officially. In this connection we note that in 1949 the grain outputs in total dropped in the official statistics. The government explained that this was due to drought, but what actually happened is unknown. Also the reason why the plans for agricultural production for 1949/50 became so conservative is unclear. Did statistical discrepancy become too large to be ignored? Or did the preceding ambitious plans cause any serious problems? This is yet to be examined.


Though there were conflicting ideas on formulating and implementing agricultural policy within the North Korean administration after August 1945, the series of agricultural reforms conducted were distinctly socialist. They aimed at building socialist agriculture, characterized by planning - the production target, collective work and price control, while suppressing capitalist elements, specifically discretion of farmers in farming and profit making. The literature has exaggerated their achievement. The government failed to overcome inefficiency in the collective farm work and the taxation in kind and an extensive bottleneck in agricultural production. As a result agricultural outputs in total did not increase as planned. After the Korean war ended the socialist policy was pushed further and the agricultural collectivization based on collective ownership and labor of farm workers was realized across North Korea by the late 1950s. In the long run the collectivized agriculture has fallen in stagnation and eventually in disaster, but for the government this system has had a marked advantage because it enabled the government to take full control of food grains and other outputs produced by farmers. This could by no means be achieved under the old system.

Finally two points should be noted. First, colonial legacy. The operation of the agricultural planning in this period was in great measure an extension of what the Japanese colonial administration was pursuing toward the end of its rule. From the late 1930s on the colonial government emphasized planning of agricultural production while strengthening control of prices and distribution of the products. The production target was set for each community and further for each farmer (for instance, Chosen Nokaiho 15 (5), 1941, 62-67). At the final stage the production responsibility was introduced (ibid., 16 (11), 1942, 83-84; (12), 55-57). Also the collective work group was organized for each kind of farm work. After the collapse of the colonial regime the North Korean administration fully used these ideas and techniques for its own planning. Most local administrators having the knowledge and experiences remained in office and worked for it (but not very long because many of them either defected or were expelled as the overturning of local power relations proceeded). The legacy was remarkable.

Second, the purpose of the heavy taxation. Why did the administration try to collect a large quantity of food grains from farmers? Was the government not established to promote the interest of the people? Simply, the government gave priority to industrialization and expansion of military and police and for this purpose sacrificed the interests of farmers. This, again, reminds us of what the Japanese had done at the end of their rule. Also the Soviet Military requisitioned great amounts of farm products directly or indirectly from farmers, especially in 1945-46 (Hagiwara 1994, 62-67; Weathersby 1996; for the Soviet requisition of wheat in Rinje in 1946, 2007/6/16: 88). Full discussion of this point - exactly for what and to what extent the government used the agricultural sector as a resource base in the economy - is essential to understanding the basic character of the North Korean regime after Liberation. This is an agenda for future work.

Table 1 Saengsan-ban(production groups),Tolgyok-dae(brigades) and total households in1946

Table 2 Amounts of the planned state purchase and total outputs of grains in 1946

Table 3 Tax rates and grain purchase quota in Sonch'on County in 1946

Table 4 Numbers of farm households classified according to tax and other burdens as percentageof harvests in Tonghung-ri

Table 5 Harvest, tax in kind and grain purchase quota in Rinje County in 1946

Table 6 Official statistics on grain outputs and planted areas

List of References

Published and unpublished books and articles

Bank of Chosen. 1948. Kyongje T'onggye Yonbo 1948 (Economic Statistical Yearbook 1948). Seoul: Bank of Chosen.

Chosen Jijo Kenkyukai ed. 1956. Chosen no Keizai(The Korean Economy). Tokyo: Toyo Keizai Shimposha.

Chosen Nokai. 1936-1943. Chosen Nokaiho. vols. 10-17. Seoul: Chosen Nokai.

Government-General of Korea. 1938-1944. Chosen Sotokufu Tokei Nempo Showa 11-17 nen(Statistical Yearbook of Government-General of Korea 1936-1942). Seoul: Government-General of Korea.

Hagiwara, R. 1994. Chosen Senso: Kin Nissei to Makkasa no Imbo (The Korean War: Kim Il-sung and Conspiracy of MacArthur). Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha.

Hallim Taehakkyo Asia Munhwa Yon'guso. 1994. Pukhan Kyongje T'onggye Charyojip 1946-1948(The Collection of Statistics on North Korean Economy in 1946-1948). Ch'unch'on: Hallim University Press.

Kim, Han-ju. 1959. Choson Minjujuui Inmin Konghwaguk essoui Nongop Hyopdonghwa Undong ui Sungri(The Victory of the Movement for Agricultural Collectivization in Democratic People's Republic of Korea). P'yongyang: Workers' Party Press.

Kim, Il-sung. 1979. Kin Nissei Chosaku-shu (Collected Works of Kim Il-sung). Japanese edition.vols.3-5. P'yongyang: Foreign Language Press.

Kim, Song-bo. 1995. "Pukhan ui T'oji Kaehyok (1946 nyon) kwa Nongch'on Kyech'ung Kusong P'yonhwa - Kyolchong Kwajong kwa Chiyok Sarye" (Land Reform in North Korea in 1946 and Changing Rural Class Structure - The Decision Process and Regional Cases). Tongbang Hakuchi 87: 51-106.

Kim, Un-gun and T'o-sun Yi. 1990. "Subuk Chigu Sarye Chosa wo Chungsim-uro pon Pukhan T'oji Kaehyok ui Chep'yong-ka" (Reappraisal of the North Korean Land Reform based on the Case Study in the Recovered District). Nongop Kyongje Yon'gu 31: 89-105.

Kimura, M. 1995. "Agricultural Taxation and Food Conditions in North Korea after Land Reform in 1946 - A Preliminary Survey," Discussion Paper F-090. Faculty of Economics, Tezukayama University.
--- and Jaejong Chung. 1995. "Kitachosen no Tochi Kaikaku" (The Land Reform in North Korea). Discussion Paper J-053. Faculty of Economics, Tezukayama University.

Kukp'yon (Kuksa P'yonch'an Wiwonhoe). 1988. Pukhan Kwangye Saryojip (The Collection of Material on North Korea). vol. V. Kwach'on: Kukp'yon.

NTIS (National Technical Information Service, US Department of Commerce). 1960. Development of the National Economy and Culture of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (1946-1959): Statistical Handbook. Washington, D. C.: US Joint Publications Research Service.

Pak, Man-hyop. 1988. Choson Kyot'ong Unsusa (History of Transportation in Korea). vol. 2. P'yongyang: P'yongyang Railroad Publishing.

Sahoe Kwahak-won Yoksa Yon'guso. 1981. Choson Chonsa (The Whole History of Korea). vol. 23. P'yongyang: Sahoe Kwahak-won Yoksa Yon'guso.

Scalapino, R. A. and Chong Sik Lee. 1972. Communism in Korea. vol. 2. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yi, Chu-ch'ol. 1995. "T'oji Kaehyok Ihu Pukhan Nongch'on Sahoe ui Pyonhwa" (Changes in Rural Society in North Korea after the Land Reform). Yoksa wa Hyonsil 16: 247-280.

Archival Materials

US National Archive in Washington, D. C.
Call numbers for files: 2005/2/114, 2005/4/45, 2005/5/53, 2005/7/58, 2006/11/83, 2006/14/74, 2006/14/77.1, 2007/6/5, 2007/6/10, 2007/6/16, 2010/1/169, 2012/5/141, 2012/5/146, 2012/5/148, 2012/5/153, 2012/6/137.
Note: The figure added to the call number in the text indicates the page number that we have put for reference.
Russian Archives in Moscow Memoranda produced by Weathersby, K. (1996).

Oral Materials
Interviews: Han Pong-nin, Sin Song-ch'ol, Yi Yong-ae, Yu Myong-ch'ol. Recorded tapes: Kukp'yon. 1979-81. Pukhan-sa Chungon Ch'ongch'ui (Hearing of Testimony on North Korean History). Kwach'on: Kukp'yon.