Behind the military prowess of North Korea, a food crisis looms.

According to experts, North Korea is experiencing a dire food crisis.

Chronic food shortages are not new to the country, but border controls, poor weather, and sanctions have exacerbated the situation in recent years.

According to state media, top officials are scheduled to meet at the end of February to discuss a “fundamental change” to agriculture policy.

According to the news aggregator KCNA Watch, this is a “very important and urgent task” amid “urgent” agricultural issues.

The news arrives as Pyongyang continues its military displays.

According to reports, the unification ministry of South Korea has also issued a warning about the food shortages and asked the World Food Programme (WFP) for assistance.

The North produced 180,000 fewer tonnes of food in 2022 than it did in 2021, as evidenced by South Korean satellite imagery.

In June, the WFP expressed concern that extreme weather conditions, such as drought and flooding, could reduce winter and spring crop production. State-run media reported late last year that the nation was experiencing its “second-worst” drought on record.

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, who works for, a publication focused on North Korea, stated that, as predicted, food prices have risen this year due to poor harvests, and people have turned to cheaper alternatives.

Rimjin-gang, a North Korean magazine published in Japan, reported a 20% increase in the price of corn at the beginning of 2023 due to rising demand for the less-preferred, but more affordable staple than rice.

Mr. Silberstein remarked, “If people are purchasing more corn, the price of food as a whole and staple foods like rice in particular will increase.” Currently, one kilogram of the crop costs approximately 3,400 North Korean won (£3.10; $3.50).

North Korea is ranked among the world’s poorest nations. In 2015, the CIA World Factbook estimates that its per capita gross domestic product was approximately $1,700.

North Korea slams the South’s ‘absurd’ aid offer.
Why does North Korea not have sufficient food?
Nevertheless, given North Korea’s opaque economy, the actual situation and numbers are obscure.

“Due to North Korea’s strict Covid border measures on goods and people, there is no way for outsiders to enter the country and assess the situation for themselves,” said NK News analyst James Fretwell.

A photo from 2019 shows North Koreans participating in an annual rice planting event in Nampho city.
He added that these measures have also made it difficult for non-North Korean organizations to send aid in times of crisis.

Since January 2020, North Korea has also severely restricted cross-border trade and traffic.

Sokeel Park, country director for Liberty in North Korea in South Korea, characterized the regime’s response to the pandemic as “extreme and paranoid.”

Mr. Park, whose organization helps resettle North Korean refugees in South Korea or the United States, stated that the North’s supply of basic necessities has been diminishing since the outbreak began. Mr. Park stated that Link has received multiple credible reports of people starving to death.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that North Korea received $2.3m (£1.9m) in humanitarian aid from international organizations and other agencies last year, compared with $14m in 2021.

Some relief workers told the BBC that international sanctions imposed in response to North Korea’s military provocations have also impeded the delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Nonetheless, there are indications that cross-border economic activity is resuming. Nikkei Asia reported last week that truck travel with China, which accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, had resumed.

However, this does not necessarily imply that the standard of living for North Koreans will improve.

North Korea devotes the majority of its budget to the military; its most recent missile launchers were displayed in early February.
Mr. Park stated that the regime has prioritized its missile prowess and propaganda at the expense of society. Pyongyang launched a record number of ballistic missiles in 2017: over 70, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States’ mainland. At the beginning of this month, a military parade featured the country’s largest ever display of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Mr. Park added, “The regime has acknowledged how difficult life is for ordinary North Koreans, but continues to prioritize propaganda and pageantry for the Kim family, missile launches, and strict population control.”

Experts are concerned that the situation on the ground will continue to deteriorate, leading to a famine as devastating as the one the country endured in the mid-to-late 1990s, commonly referred to in official documents as the “Arduous March.” The estimated number of deaths ranges from 600,000 to one million.

Mr. Silberstein stated, “We do not appear to be near the levels of the famine of the 1990s.” “However, profits are razor thin. So even a marginally diminished food supply could potentially have dire consequences.”

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