Thursday, March 30, 2023

Food shortage: N Korea wants more control over farming

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to strengthen state control over agriculture and take a spate of other steps to increase grain production, state media reported Thursday. But experts say it won’t effectively address a worsening food shortage.
Kim’s measures unveiled during a recent four-day meeting were largely a repeat of his past policies. Prospects for quickly resolving its food insecurity are dim, as North Korea restricts the operation of markets and devotes much of its scarce resources to its nuclear program.
While experts believe the food situation is the worst it has been under Kim’s 11-year rule, they still say they see no signs of imminent famine or mass deaths.

During the ruling Workers’ Party meeting that ended Wednesday, Kim said his government sees agricultural development as a matter of “strategic” importance and that farming goals should be settled without fail, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
“In order to attain the gigantic long-term objective of rural development, it is necessary to decisively strengthen the party guidance over the agricultural sector and improve the rural party work,” Kim was quoted as saying.
Kim also ordered officials to overcome unspecified “lopsidedness in the guidance on farming” and concentrate on increasing farm yields. He said provincial, city and county authorities must boost their guidance on agriculture.
KCNA didn’t elaborate how Kim would reinforce his government’s guidance on farming. But experts say Kim’s instructions were a reaffirmation of his push to restore elements of a socialist-style planned economy — under which a central authority controls the market rather than participants — on grain supply. They say that’s one of the factors behind North Korea’s worsened food situation.

“In our views, they’re going backward and returning to the past,” said Kwon Tae-jin, a senior economist at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea. “To resolve the food problem, they should let markets play a greater role. But they’re rather returning to a planned economy.”
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said later Thursday that North Korea is expected to use local organizations in rural towns to maintain their control of the people, mobilize them as labor forces and implement previous policies.
It expressed skepticism about whether Kim’s push to tighten guidance over agricultural activities would lead to meaningful improvements unless it’s backed by the supply of fertilizer and other key agricultural materials.

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