In the shadow of military prowess, there is a food crisis in North Korea

On May 12, 2019, people participate in an annual rice planting event in Nampho City, Chongsan-ri, close to Nampho

According to experts, North Korea is going through a serious food crisis.

Chronic food shortages are nothing new for the nation, but recent border restrictions, unfavorable weather, and sanctions have made matters worse.

According to state media, senior officials will meet at the end of February to discuss a "fundamental change" to agriculture policy.

According to news aggregator KCNA Watch, this is a "very important and urgent task" amid "pressing" farming-related issues.

The news is released as Pyongyang keeps up its military prowess displays.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has reportedly been contacted for assistance by South Korea's unification ministry, which has also raised the issue of food shortages.

South Korean authorities' use of satellite imagery reveals that the North produced 180,000 tonnes less food in 2022 than it did in 2021.

The WFP expressed concern in June about how drought and flooding could affect both the production of winter and spring crops. The nation was reportedly going through its "second worst" drought on record as of late last year, according to state media.

According to predictions, this year's poor harvests have increased food prices, and as a result, consumers have been looking for less expensive options, according to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a journalist for the North Korea-focused publication 38North . org.

Beginning in 2023, the price of corn has increased by 20% due to rising demand for the less popular than rice but less expensive staple, according to Rimjin-gang, a North Korean magazine published in Japan.

According to Mr. Silberstein, if people are purchasing more corn, it means that food in general and staple foods like rice in particular are becoming more expensive. The current price per kilogram of the crop in North Korea is 3,400 won (£3.10; $3.80).

One of the world's most impoverished nations is North Korea. Although there are few recent estimates, the CIA World Factbook predicts that in 2015, its gross domestic product per capita will be around $1,700.

Despite this, the precise situation and figures are unknown due to North Korea's hazy economic system.

"There is no way for any outsiders to go into the country and check for themselves what the situation is due to North Korea's strict Covid border measures on goods and people," said James Fretwell, an analyst at NK News.

People take part in an annual rice planting event in Nampho City in Chongsan-ri, near Nampho on May 12, 2019
North Koreans can be seen in a file photo participating in the annual rice planting event in Nampho City in 2019.

He continued that these measures have made it more challenging for organizations outside of North Korea to send aid during times of need.

Since January 2020, North Korea has also strictly limited cross-border commerce and travel.

The regime's response to the pandemic was called "extreme and paranoid" by Sokeel Park, South Korea's country director for the non-profit Liberty in North Korea (Link).

The availability of necessities in the North has been decreasing ever since the pandemic began, according to Mr. Park, whose organization assists in resettling North Korean refugees in South Korea or the US. According to Mr. Park, Link has heard numerous reliable accounts of people starving to death.

The amount of humanitarian aid provided to the nation has also significantly decreased, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In 2018, North Korea received $2.3 million (£1.9 million) from international organizations and other agencies, down from $14 million in 2021.

While this might be due to extended border closures, some aid workers told the BBC that the tightening of international sanctions in response to North Korea's military provocations has also made it more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.

Nevertheless, there are some indications that international trade is picking up again. The week before last, Nikkei Asia reported that some truck travel with China, which accounts for more than 90% of North Korea's trade, had resumed.

The average North Korean's standard of living may not necessarily rise as a result.

Missile launchers displayed at the parade
North Korea spends a lot of money on its military, which recently displayed its newest missile launchers.

According to Mr. Park, the regime has prioritized its propaganda and missile capabilities at the expense of society. More than 70 ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that may be able to reach the US mainland, were fired by Pyongyang last year, setting a new record. At a military parade earlier this month, it displayed the most ICBMs it has ever displayed.

Although the regime is aware of how difficult life is for the average North Korean, Mr. Park continued, it still places a high priority on missile launches, propaganda and pageantry for the Kim family, and strict controls over the populace.

A famine as devastating as the one the nation endured in the mid- to late 1990s, known in official documents as the "Arduous March," experts fear, will result from the current state of affairs. The number of fatalities is estimated to range from 600,000 to 1 million.

The 1990s famine was nowhere near where we are now, according to Mr. Silberstein. But the margins are extremely thin. Therefore, even a slight reduction in the food supply could have negative effects.

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