This is quite an indicator on a number of levels: lack of food for the military and the impact of malnourishment, emphasis on "bribing" nKPA soldiers to fill the food supplies, the likely impact on the population as we re likely to see soldiers coerce people to collect the 500kg of beans in return for 6 months leave (and of course what are soldiers going to do for 6 months - this shifts the burden of feeding soldiers to the home towns and families - and the question is if the soldiers do not think they will be fed after 6 months of leave will they return - is the 500kg of beans the way they are "buying" themselves out of conscription?) But most important this is an indication that Pyongyang is unable to sufficiently supply its military forces. Once we see units "de-prioritized" by the regime we are likely to see breakdown of military control and a loss of military coherency and support for the regime. If this is true this could be a very significant indicator of coming instability.
Soldiers stationed with the 5th Corps of the Chosun People’s Army (KPA) in southeast North Korea are being offered extended leave in exchange for quantities of beans, an inside source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on July 15th.
“Military units have been struggling to secure stocks of beans because of last year’s floods in Gangwon Province,” the source explained, “so they’re offering up to six months leave to anyone who can bring them 500kg of beans.”
As famine and malnourishment spread like wildfire through North Korea in the latter half of the 1990s, the KPA responded by granting officers 10-20 days leave at a time for the purpose of acquiring provisions and 1-3 months for ordinary soldiers to recover from malnourishment. However, it has never been common practice to offer leave in exchange for supplies of specific goods.
The reason for the decision stems from a visit from the top, it appears. “Military units have been obliged to guarantee bean supplies for their soldiers since a directive was handed down by Kim Jong Eun in January this year,” the source elaborated. “[To ensure that] military units adhere to this policy, inspections are being carried out not only by the General Logistics Bureau [of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces], but also by the General Political Department [of the KPA] as well.”
According to a KCNA report published in January this year, when he visited the General Logistics Bureau Kim Jong Eun “underlined the need to bring about a radical turn in improving the living standards of service personnel.” The bureau “must play the vanguard role in improving the living standards of service personnel,” he apparently commented.
Daily NK’s source asserted that the 5th Corps has taken the step of offering extended leave to personnel in an attempt to curry favour by achieving compliance with Kim’s instructions.
Needless to say, however, the emphasis on beans as a source of sustenance for the KPA did not start with Kim Jong Eun; it dates back at least as far as the 1980s, when Kim Jong Il took over as Commander-in-Chief of the KPA. Kim stressed a three-pronged approach to army life: beans as food to nourish the troops, basketball for physical training, and playing cards during free time.
The call to “supply ample beans” to soldiers continued in the 2000s, and now the Kim Jong Eun era has brought still greater stress on the importance of beans to bolster physical health. The KPA solves many of its food security issues directly through farming in situ, and beans are one of the easiest things to grow, they're also cheap, and are rich in nutrients.
However, flooding around Gangwon Province last year resulted in serious damage to bean crops. For four days beginning on July 10th that year, the province was pounded with 420mm of rain, memorably taking lives in a landslide at the construction site of Masikryong Ski Resort. This left the province's units short of supplies.
According to Daily NK sources, on July 14th the going rate for a kilo of beans in North Korea was roughly 5,000-5,500 KPW, the same as for rice. This price places the option of purchasing a quantity of beans at the market price beyond the reach of less fortunate soldiers.
The source revealed public concern at this emphasis on beans, and the incentive it provides to steal from farms and private plots. “Already people are chattering about how ‘cooperative farms here are going to be beset by KPA thieves’,” she said.