Estimates say N. Korea is short 1M tons of grain, some starve

Seoul, South Korea –

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has held a large political meeting dedicated to agriculture, state media reported Monday.External assessments suggest the country is facing severe food shortages. There is

South Korean experts estimate that North Korea is short of about 1 million tons of grain after the pandemic disrupted unofficial grain imports from China and the government restricted food sales in markets. increase. This is almost 20% of annual demand.

Some North Koreans have died of hunger, according to recent unconfirmed reports in South Korean media. But most experts see no signs of mass death or famine in North Korea.

At a high-level meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party that began on Sunday, party officials reviewed last year’s efforts on national goals to achieve a “new-age rural revolution,” KCNA reported.

The plenary session of the party’s Central Committee said it would identify “imminent and important” tasks on agricultural issues and “urgent tasks arising at the current stage of national economic development,” according to the report.

KCNA did not say whether Kim spoke during the talks or how long the talks would last. Also present were Prime Minister Kim Deok-hoon and high-ranking officials such as Cho Young-won, one of Kim’s aides who handles the central committee’s organizational issues.

The plenary session is an important decision-making forum for the Workers’ Party. In recent years, Chairman Kim has held plenary meetings two to four times a year to formulate major policies.

It is the first time that the party has held a plenary session to discuss only agriculture. Monday’s report did not elaborate on its agenda, but the party’s Politburo said earlier this month that “a tipping point is needed to dynamically facilitate fundamental changes in agricultural development.” I was.

Most analysts say the food situation in North Korea today is nowhere near the extremes of the 1990s, when a famine killed hundreds of thousands of people. says food insecurity is likely at its worst since it came to power in 2011.Russia’s war against Ukraine has exacerbated the situation by pushing up global prices for food, energy and fertilizers. may have caused

It is unclear whether North Korea will take significant steps to address food shortages. Poor countries spend much of their scarce resources on nuclear programs.

Professor Nam Sung-wook of South Korea’s Korea University said, “In order to produce more grain, we need to increase inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and agricultural machinery. Very rarely,” he said. “Their budget is limited. The money they spend on their missile program can take such steps[to produce more grain].”

North Korea has accelerated its missile tests since last year, launching more than 70 missiles, many of which are nuclear-armed weapons that put the US mainland, South Korea and Japan within range.

Nam said the current food problem did not pose a serious political threat to Kim, pointing out that even during the famines of the 1990s, his family’s control was unwavering.

Last year, North Korea’s grain production was estimated at 4.5 million tons, down 3.8% from the previous year, according to an assessment by the South Korean government. According to previous South Korean data, North Korea is estimated to have produced 4.4 million tonnes of grain annually from 2012 to 2021.

North Korea needs about 5.5 million tons of grain annually to feed its 25 million people, so it is about 1 million tons short this year. Kwon Tae-jin, a senior economist at South Korea’s private GS&J Institute, said over the past few years half of that gap has typically been filled by unofficial grain purchases from China, leaving the rest as an unresolved shortfall. rice field.

Kwon said trade restrictions due to the pandemic are likely preventing unofficial rice purchases from China. Efforts by North Korean authorities to tighten controls and limit market activity have also exacerbated the situation, he said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said North Korea’s current food shortage is more of a distribution problem than an absolute shortage, as much of the grain harvested last year has not yet been consumed.

An Agriculture Department official said North Korea’s food insecurity had worsened as officials tightened controls on private grain sales at markets instead of trying to limit grain trade to state-owned facilities.

North Korea’s factory and machinery sector is likely to be decimated by border controls, so Kim Jong-un is focusing on boosting grain production and reviving construction and other sectors less dependent on imported materials. . Some experts say Kim seeks public support for his fight against US-led sanctions and pressure campaigns, aiming to hone his image as a leader who cares about the lives of his people. said it is likely that

State media reported that Kim and his “beloved” daughter on Saturday embarked on a project to build thousands of new homes in the Sofo district of the capital Pyongyang. Since first appearing in public in November, this is the 7th public activity that seems to be about 10 years old.

Last year, North Korea resumed freight train traffic to and from China and Russia, easing restrictions at home. That was after making highly dubious claims that it had overcome the pandemic just three months after acknowledging its initial domestic outbreak. Analysts say it’s still unlikely North Korea will lift restrictions completely any time soon, as many of its people have not been vaccinated and the public health system has largely collapsed. increase.

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