SEOUL, March 2 (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered infrastructure improvements and expansion of farmland to boost food production, state media said on Thursday, amid warnings of an impending food crisis.
Kim gave instructions to renew irrigation systems, build modern agricultural machinery and create more arable land as he wrapped up the seventh extended plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee on Wednesday.
The meeting started on Sunday to discuss the “urgent” task of improving the agricultural sector.
South Korea has warned of a growing food crisis in the isolated North, including a recent rise in deaths from starvation in some regions, partly because of what it said was a flaw in a new grain policy that restricts private crop transactions.
North Korea’s economy has been hit by floods and typhoons, sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, and a sharp decline in trade with China amid border closures and COVID-19 lockdowns.
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South Korea’s Rural Development Agency estimates that crop production in the North fell nearly 4% last year from a year earlier, citing heavy summer rains and other economic conditions.
Kim laid out plans and specific tasks to build “wealthy and highly civilized socialist rural communities with advanced technology and modern civilization,” the official KCNA news agency said.
He ordered the renewal of the irrigation system to cope with climate change, the production of efficient agricultural machinery to modernize production and the reclamation of tides to expand farming areas, KCNA said.
A lack of adequate agricultural infrastructure, machinery and supplies including fertilizer and fuel has made North Korea more vulnerable to natural disasters, experts say.
The mountainous country has also attempted to expand arable land through tidal reclamation along its west coast since the 1980s, but previous efforts failed in part due to poor engineering and maintenance.
Under Kim, reclamation projects have been relatively more successful, but with slow progress in converting coastal lakes to fertile farmland, they have done little to ease food shortages, the US-based 38 North Project said in late 2021.
“The state media report said they set new targets and action plans, but I don’t see anything new as all the elements including irrigation and recycling have already been addressed before,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea .
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, also noted that the report did not suggest new ideas or a possible change in grain policy that South Korea blamed for food shortages.
KCNA said Kim stressed the need to tighten discipline in the implementation of the economic plan, warning against “practices to weaken the organizational and executive power of the Cabinet,” and ordered all party units to “have their work efficiency verified.”
The Central Committee also discussed ways to improve the country’s economic governance, KCNA reported, without elaborating.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.
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