Kim orders ‘revolutionary changes’ in agriculture amid reports of food shortages

Kim orders ‘revolutionary changes’ in agriculture amid reports of food shortages

February 28, 2023

Seoul: North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un is urging government officials to engineer a “fundamental transformation” in agricultural production, amid outside worries about the country’s worsening food insecurity.

Foreign experts say North Korea is experiencing a serious shortfall of food in the aftermath of COVID-19 border restrictions and a reported push for greater state control over grain supply. Although the experts say they’ve seen no signs of mass deaths or famine due to the shortfall.

During a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on Monday, Kim expressed his government’s determination “to bring about a revolutionary turn in the agricultural production without fail,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party at its headquarters in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday.Credit:KCNA/AP

“Nothing is impossible as long as the strong leadership system is established in the whole party and there is the united might of all the people,” he was quoted as saying.

KCNA didn’t elaborate on whether Kim presented any specific steps to boost grain production. Many observers say meaningful steps to produce more grain would require more purchases of fertiliser, pesticides and agricultural machinery, as North Korea devotes much of its scarce resources to advance its nuclear weapons program.

Collective farms account for the vast majority of the country’s agriculture, according to researchers. Such farms typically host multiple small farmers who produce crops with joint labour.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, third right, speaks with people involved during a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event.Credit:KCNA/AP

The chronic food shortage has likely deteriorated due to COVID-19 restrictions that choked off external trade, persistent US-led sanctions and its own mismanagement.

According to South Korean assessments, the North’s grain production last year was estimated at 4 million tonnes. In the previous decade, its annual production was an estimated 3.9 million to 4.3 million tonnes. South Korea’s spy agency has said North Korea needs about 5 million tonnes of grain to feed its 25 million people each year.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the food situation in the North “seemed to have deteriorated” and it was rare for Pyongyang to announce a special meeting on agriculture strategy which was slated for late February.

In past years, unofficial grain purchased from China offset about half the gap, but pandemic-caused curbs on border traffic has likely cut those transactions. A decline in people’s earnings and authorities’ unsuccessful efforts to supply grain via state-run facilities while restricting private dealing at markets likely further worsened the situation, according to Kwon Tae-jin, a senior economist at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea.

Most analysts say North Korea’s current food shortage is nowhere near the extremes of the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine. They say the meeting of the party’s Central Committee was in part likely convened to promote Kim’s image as a leader caring about his people at a time when he’s locked in confrontations with the United States over his nuclear program.

The plenary session, which opened on Sunday, was expected to last at least another day.

KCNA cited Kim as saying the main purpose of the conference was to find immediate ways to reach this year’s grain production goal and scientifically feasible long-term objectives to radically increase agricultural production within a few years. Other senior officials analysed unspecified shortcomings in past rural development projects and proposed how to fix them, according to KCNA.

Boosting grain production is one of the 12 economic objectives North Korea’s ruling party adopted in an earlier party meeting in December. State media said recently that grain production must be increased at all costs.

AP, Reuters

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