North Korea: a worrying food situation

A rice paddy at the Namsa Cooperative Farm in Pyongyang on May 25, 2021.
A rice paddy at the Namsa Cooperative Farm in Pyongyang on May 25, 2021. JON CHOL JIN / AP

Regularly at the limit of the shortage, North Korea would experience a food situation degraded by climatic hazards and three years of almost total isolation decided after the appearance of Covid-19 in its Chinese neighbor. Based on this observation, the leader Kim Jong-un called on Monday, February 27, for a ” radical change “ and to one “stable and sustainable development” of farming.

The North Korean leader was speaking at the seventh plenary meeting on 8e central committee of the ruling Labor Party, which began on Sunday and is dedicated specifically to the food emergency. “Normally, such plenary meetings are organized every six months. The last dates back to the end of December.notes Cheong Seong-chang, from the South Korean Sejong Institute.

Exceptional, this session could thus reflect a worrying situation in a country hit, in the heart of the 1990s, by a famine responsible for several hundred thousand victims. South Korean daily Korea Herald reported, on February 6, people who had died of starvation in Kaesong, a town close to the demilitarized zone and normally favored by the regime. On the 15th, the Dong A Ilbo in turn referred to reductions in soldiers’ daily rations.Read also (2022): In North Korea, Kim Jong-un says food security is his priority

This information has not been confirmed, although the South Korean government has also spoken of people dying of malnutrition in ” some regions “, without giving details. Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, however, explained on February 15 that “the situation does not seem as serious as during the famine of the 1990s”.

Distribution problem

The question divides the experts. North Korea ‘Terrifying on the brink of potentially mass starvation’believes Lucas Rengifo-Keller, of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, in an analysis published on the specialized site 38 North. “Food availability has probably fallen below the bare minimum to meet needs” and would be “the weakest since the famine of the 1990s”. Kwon Tae-jin, adviser to the South Korean government, agrees: “Last year’s agricultural production was not good and government stocks are running out”he told the site NK News.

According to Seoul, the harvest would not have exceeded 4.51 million tons in 2022, against 4.69 million tons in 2021, a decrease of about 3.8%, partly due to the spring drought . However, North Korea needs about 5.5 million tons of cereals to feed its 25 million inhabitants. The missing million tons is partly covered by unofficial purchases in China. Despite production limits, the South Korean government attributes the current situation more to a distribution problem than a real shortage. It would result from increased control over private sales of cereals on the markets, decided during the pandemic.

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