North Korea wants more control over agriculture due to food shortage

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to strengthen state control over agriculture and make every effort to increase grain production, state media reported, as the country faces a growing food shortage.

Prospects for an early resolution of food insecurity remain dim as North Korea restricts market forces and devotes much of its scarce resources to its nuclear program. While experts believe the food situation is the worst under Kim’s rule, they still say they see no signs of imminent famine or mass deaths.

Speaking at a recent four-day ruling Labor Party meeting, Kim said his government considers agricultural development a matter of “strategic” importance and that agricultural targets should be set without fail, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

“In order to achieve the gigantic long-term goal of rural development, it is necessary to resolutely strengthen the party leadership over the agricultural sector and improve the work of the rural party,” Kim said.

He said all government sectors and units should provide “mental and moral, material and technical support and assistance to the rural communities”, saying this should be “a trend of the whole society”.

Kim also ordered officials to overcome unspecified “one-sidedness in agricultural guidelines” and focus on increasing agricultural yields. He said state, city and county authorities should strengthen their guidance on agriculture.

KCNA has not elaborated on how Kim plans to strengthen and improve his government’s control over agriculture.

But experts have said North Korean authorities’ attempts to supply grain through state facilities and restrict private transactions in markets were considered one of the reasons for the deteriorating food situation. Others include lower personal incomes, pandemic border crossings that blocked unofficial rice purchases from China and the general economic difficulties exacerbated by mismanagement, COVID-19 and international sanctions.

North Korea’s grain production was estimated at 4.5 million tons last year, down 3.8% from a year earlier, according to South Korean estimates. In the previous decade, annual production was estimated at 4.4 million to 4.8 million tons. South Korea’s spy agency has said North Korea needs 5.5 million tons of grain each year to feed its 25 million people.

“It’s hard to be optimistic about the food supply as long as Pyongyang insists on implementing North Korean-style socialism and isolating the country from international trade and aid while it develops nuclear missiles,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at the Ewha University in Seoul. said.

Holding a meeting of a governing party’s Central Committee focused on agriculture – while previous plenary sessions focused mainly on the country’s nuclear program or rivalries with the United States and South Korea – could be an admission that the food situation is serious is. But some experts say the country is also likely looking to polish Kim’s image as a leader who cares for his people and boost domestic support for his push to expand his nuclear arsenal.

Kim also called for faster construction of new irrigation systems that would help the country cope with extreme weather events caused by climate change. He also called on equipment manufacturers to build and deliver more efficient farm equipment and called on workers to accelerate their efforts to reclaim the flood lines to expand agriculture.

According to KCNA, Kim praised the plenary for producing more definitive proposals that would put agriculture on a “stable and sustainable development path” and accelerate overall prosperity. But the report gave no further details.

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