Feb. 13 (UPI) -- North Korea's food situation may have been improving over the long term, according to defectors in the South who are reporting increased market activity and the greater availability of rice over ersatz grain substitutes.
Seoul's unification ministry said Thursday a comprehensive survey of North Korean defectors who resettled in the South through the first half of 2019 indicates more North Koreans have access to three meals a day, Newsis reported.
According to the survey's projections, included in the ministry's fact-finding research on the North's economy, about eight out of 10 North Koreans have access to three meals daily, while about half the population now eat meals that include rice, rather than corn. Only about one-third of respondents said three meals a day was an option before 2000.
Defectors' responses to the South Korean government survey also show market-related economic activities are on the rise, as state-led economic projects declined as a source of livelihood in North Korea, the report says.
For defectors who migrated to the South from 2016 to 2019, 48 percent of the respondents said they earned income from a mix of private enterprise and state-run projects. The proportion of North Koreans relying on the state for income may be declining, with only 24 percent of defectors saying they received a salary from state-owned enterprises.
State-owned enterprises in North Korea include cooperative farms and factories; private enterprises refer to North Korean activities in the informal gray markets, known as "jangmadang."
Yang Mun-su of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the markets are "definitely expanding" under Kim Jong Un, according to News 1. North Korea media does not report on the markets.
Kim has not responded to the South's calls for economic cooperation, and may be moving independently with projects in Kaesong, the site of a jointly operated factory park shuttered in 2016, Yonhap reported Thursday.
The regime has designated Kaesong as a "metropolitan city," along with Nampo and Rason, according to the report.