North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un has called for stronger public solidarity behind his leadership to significantly increase grain production.
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un called for stronger public solidarity behind his leadership to significantly increase the country’s grain output, state media reported Tuesday, amid concerns about the country’s worsening food insecurity.
Foreign experts say North Korea is experiencing severe food shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 border restrictions and a reported push for greater government control over its grain supply. The experts say they have seen no signs of mass death or famine due to the shortage.
During a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on Monday, Kim expressed his government’s determination “to bring about a revolutionary turnaround in agricultural production without failure,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
“Nothing is impossible as long as the strong leadership system is established throughout the party and it is the unified power of the entire people,” Kim said.
KCNA did not elaborate on whether Kim presented any specific steps to increase grain production. Many observers say meaningful steps to produce more grain will require more purchases of fertilizer, pesticides and agricultural machinery, as North Korea uses much of its scarce resources to advance its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea’s chronic food shortages are likely to have worsened due to COVID-19 restrictions that stifled the country’s foreign trade, persistent US-led sanctions and its own mismanagement.
According to South Korean assessments, North Korea’s grain production last year was estimated at 4.5 million tonnes. In the previous decade, its annual production was an estimated 4.4 million to 4.8 million tonnes. South Korea’s spy agency has said North Korea needs 5.5 million tonnes of grain to feed its 25 million people each year.
In recent years, unofficial grain purchases from China have made up about half the gap, but pandemic-induced curbs in border traffic have likely reduced those transactions. Further worsening the situation was a decline in people’s incomes and the government’s failed efforts to supply grain via state-owned facilities while restricting private trading in markets, according to Kwon Tae-jin, senior economist at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea.
Most analysts say North Korea’s current food shortages are 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 likely called in part to promote Kim’s image as a leader who cares about his people at a time when he is locked in confrontations with the United States over his nuclear program.
The plenary meeting, which opened on Sunday, was expected to last at least another day.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying in Monday’s session that the main purpose of the conference was to find immediate ways to meet this year’s grain production target and scientifically feasible long-term goals to radically increase agricultural output within a few years. Other senior officials analyzed unspecified deficiencies in previous rural development projects and suggested how to fix them, according to KCNA.
Increasing grain production is one of the 12 economic goals North Korea’s ruling party adopted at an earlier party meeting in December. State media recently said that grain production must be increased at all costs.