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In what could be the most drastic change to North Korea society since the nation's founding, the government has announced new rules that would give farmers some small bit of ownership over the crops they grow. Under the new directives — which have not been publicly announced, but have been reported by some farm workers — farmers would be able to keep surplus crops, sell them at local markets, and keep the profits. Under the current central planning rules, farmers must turn over everything they harvest to the state, except for what they are allowed to keep for family use. 

The goal of the new rules would be to boost morale and productivity, as farmers would now have an incentive to grow more crops and manage them with more care and efficiency. They would still have to give up the bulk of what they grow to reach state-imposed quotas, but for the first time North Koreans could possibly be working for themselves. Of course, the government could always increase quotas, as farmers get better at growing), but if the news is true, the rules would be significant for no other reason than a simple acknowledge that individuals have some rights and property matters.

This could also be a major step for new leader Kim Jong-Un. Many many wondered (and hoped) that he could finally unwind the oppressive police state that was built by his father and grandfather, and create a more open North Korea. His country has been plagued by famine for decades, and poor farming techniques and technology have only left them further behind other developing nations. However, this could be the first step toward large property reforms and an economy that looks more like China's, as similar farming reforms boosted their fortunes in the 1970s and '80s. There's a long way to go for that to happen, but for the first time ever, maybe the leaders in Pyongyang can't claim everything as their own.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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