Printing coupons and eating swans: N.Korea innovates amid food, economic woes


From printing coupons as replacement cash to breeding ornamental black swans to eat, North Korea is being forced to innovate to handle economic woes and food shortages as anti-pandemic border lockdowns drag on, reports suggest.

With the harvest coming to an end, international observers say North Korea’s food and economic situation is perilous, and there are signs that it is increasing trade and receiving large shipments of humanitarian aid via China.

South Korea’s intelligence agency told a closed-door parliamentary hearing on Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had issued orders calling for every grain of rice to be secured and all-out efforts devoted to farming, according to lawmakers at the briefing.

Still, the spy agency assessed that this harvest may be better than last year’s because of sunnier weather, and it said North Korea was taking steps to reopen its border with China and Russia in coming months, the lawmakers told reporters.

North Korea has long suffered from food insecurity, with observers saying that mismanagement of the economy is exacerbated by international sanctions over its nuclear weapons, natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted unprecedented border lockdowns there.

Kim Jong Un has acknowledged a “tense” food situation and apologised for sacrifices citizens had to make to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

But he also said the economy improved this year, and North Korea denied a report from U.N. investigators this month that said thousands of its most vulnerable people risked starvation.

North Korea has not officially reported a single coronavirus case. U.N. agencies said North Korea has recently begun to allow in shipments of aid, and numbers released by China show a slow increase in trade.

According to various media citing unidentified sources in North Korea, the central bank has been printing money coupons worth about $1 due to a shortage of North Korean won bills.—Reuters

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