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North Korea is scrambling to address an acute food shortage that threatens to lead the country into famine. South Korean officials report that North Korean officials have called for a plenary meeting on agriculture this month, in an effort to resolve the crisis.
Climate-related disasters such as typhoons and floods have devastated the country's agriculture. Furthermore, stringent border controls have prevented it from trading with China - its major ally and economic lifeline - for years.
North Korean leadership is desperately attempting to address their country's growing food shortages. As they gear up for harvest this year, tens of thousands of people will be sent into fields to harvest rice and corn; however, North Korea remains vulnerable to natural disasters that could disrupt production.
This year's harvest is expected to be the best yet, yet it will still fall short of expectations due to increasing costs due to international sanctions and trade restrictions with China. Furthermore, there has been a severe shortage of water due to typhoon-caused shortages - essential for growing crops - which have further compounded this year.
At his December 2021 meeting, Kim Jong Un placed agriculture and rural development at the forefront of his party's priorities. He dedicated one of the six agenda items solely to discussing these policies, signaling that food security was a top concern for him and the Workers' Party.
However, he did not specify what steps were being taken to resolve the matter. A South Korean Unification Ministry spokesperson informed reporters that North Korea planned to hold another party plenary in two months with agriculture as one of the topics on the agenda for that session.
South Korean ministry notes the North's decision to hold a plenary with only one agenda is unprecedented for Pyongyang. Observers said it indicates North Korea is struggling with chronic food shortages in order to improve people's livelihoods.
Experts contend the issue goes deeper than simply a lack of resources. They point out how the North's self-reliance assumptions have prevented it from adopting realistic and sustainable agricultural policies.
The North's self-reliance model in agriculture has been hindered by its dependence on imports to meet its demand for agro-industrial products and high quality seed varieties. Furthermore, it is vulnerable to natural disasters like floods or typhoons.
Due to a severe shortage of food and water, North Korea's credibility as a reliable provider has been severely undermined, draining popular support for their regime and alienating the population. Furthermore, internal migrations caused by famine-related shortages only compounded these problems, leaving behind widespread social dysfunction and broken faith in their state.
North Korea is desperately attempting to address its increasing food shortage. At an upcoming Workers Party gathering, officials plan to discuss the "very important and urgent task" of formulating a "competent agricultural policy."
According to a source in North Hamgyong Province, an expanded plenary session will take place late this month. The gathering is expected to focus on various issues, such as strengthening the material and technological base of agriculture.
At the meeting, Kim Jong Un is expected to announce a reform that would increase monetary incentives for each farm member. This move aims to motivate farmers to grow more crops, ultimately increasing supplies of rice and other staples in the state.
Observers speculate that Kim may be taking this decision to bolster his position, as he continues his nuclear weapons program despite U.S.-led pressure and sanctions.
Experts agree that North Korea's food supply has likely not met minimum human needs, as evidenced by U.N. agencies and outside governments' estimates of grain balances; and sharp increases in rice and corn prices observed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Russia's war in Ukraine could also have added fuel to this crisis by raising global prices for food, energy and fertilizers, according to Rengifo-Keller's analysis.
One major cause of North Korea's food shortages is a lack of infrastructure, which restricts agriculture and livestock production. Furthermore, lack of energy and raw materials, unpaid foreign debt, and ideological isolation all contribute to an ongoing economic deficit.
Kim is expected to call for a plenary meeting and announce an initiative to revitalize the country's rural areas. Redevelopment of villages has been an urgent priority since 1990 when North Korea experienced severe food shortages.
North Korea has long advocated for the redevelopment of rural areas, but this initiative has proved slow and challenging to implement. Nonetheless, it remains an integral component of their ongoing effort to boost their economic standing. Recently, authorities have launched several initiatives with the goal of improving living conditions in rural areas.
North Korea is scrambling to address their country's mounting food shortage, leading to reports of famine. State-run media have been advocating economic self-reliance, with Rodong Sinmun newspaper warning on Wednesday that receiving aid from "imperialists" would be like taking "poisoned candy".
Grain production in South Korea has decreased steadily over the last ten years, with annual grain output estimated at about 4.5 million tons - barely half what it needs for food security, according to South Korean estimates. It has been short by about 1 million tons annually even when importing unofficial amounts of rice from China - which remains its main external source of grain assistance.
Analysts estimate that tightening international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear programme, severe pandemic-related restrictions and outright mismanagement have taken a severe toll on the economy. During Kim Jong Un's initial two years in power, however, North Korea's economy grew modestly as he permitted some market-oriented activities and increased coal and mineral exports to China - its primary trading partner.
However, a series of crises has sapped North Korea's initial momentum, including floods and typhoons in 2020 that decimated crops. Strict border controls blocking trade with China further restricted North Korea's ability to import essential foodstuffs like vaccines and medicines.
Kim's resolve has bolstered his country's economy, but also puts its future in jeopardy. Amid a devastating famine and stringent international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, resources have become scarce and some industries have had no choice but to close down.
One of the many challenges faced by the government's healthcare system in 2019 has been an outbreak known as COVID-19, which has further taxed it due to budgetary cuts and lack of supplies. Last month, Kim declared emergency measures necessary for preventing future outbreaks as a "top priority".
A growing global food crisis is placing undue stress on China, North Korea's primary trading partner and sole source of external aid. Chinese officials have expressed concern about the North's shortage of food items and have encouraged Pyongyang to boost production levels.
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, appears to be panicking as his country faces an ever-worsening food shortage. To deal with this unprecedented issue, he will meet with North Korea's agriculture minister later this week.
On Wednesday, KCNA reported the meeting. In North Korea, floods caused by typhoons have devastated crops and the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have added to food insecurity. International aid groups have warned that conditions could deteriorate further if nothing is done about it.
Pyongyang has stated that it plans to increase agricultural production using its own resources, according to a recent editorial in Rodong Sinmun newspaper. Furthermore, Pyongyang also reiterated its call for economic self-sufficiency this week.
Though the government's exact plan for dealing with food shortages remains unknown, Pyongyang has called for a special plenary meeting on agriculture this month. While such calls from Pyongyang's ruling Workers Party are uncommon, this might be done in order to boost public support ahead of President Donald Trump's summit.
According to KCNA, Kim addressed the meeting and lamented the "tense" food situation his country is currently facing due to poor harvests. He requested senior officials find ways to boost agricultural output and enhance people's wellbeing.
Over the past decades, North Koreans have endured severe food shortages and famine due to natural disasters and a lack of external assistance. The current food crisis is particularly pressing due to lockdowns and a sharp decrease in trade with China - their primary source of international humanitarian aid - that have compounded these difficulties.
South Korean officials have observed an uptick in starvation deaths and food distribution problems due to ongoing disagreements with the North Korean government over monitoring and control issues. Unfortunately, South Korean officials cannot provide assistance due to these ongoing disputes.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification has said that although the current situation in North Korea is better than a catastrophic famine that killed hundreds of thousands during the 1990s, it still far from ideal. North Korean food shortages are not only due to lack of grain but also due to limited market access and distribution issues.