Thursday, March 30, 2023

N.Korea rare meeting on farming amid food shortage

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened a major political conference dedicated to agriculture, state media reported Monday, as outside assessments suggest the country is facing a serious shortfall of food.
South Korean experts estimate that North Korea is short around 1 million tons of grain, nearly 20 per cent of its annual demand, after the pandemic likely disrupted unofficial grain imports from China and the government has restricted food sales at markets.
Recent, unconfirmed reports in South Korean media have said that some North Koreans have died of hunger. But most experts have seen no indication of mass deaths or famine in North Korea.
During a high-level meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party that began Sunday, senior party officials reviewed last year’s work on state goals to accomplish “rural revolution in the new era,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
The report said that the plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee will identify “immediate, important” tasks on agricultural issues and “urgent tasks arising at the present stage of the national economic development.”
KCNA didn’t say whether Kim spoke during the meeting or how long it would last.
Senior officials such as Cabinet Premier Kim Tok Hun and Jo Yong Won, one of Kim’s closest aides who handles the Central Committee’s organisational affairs, also attended.
Plenary meetings are key decision-making venues for the Workers’ Party. In recent years, Kim has held a plenary meeting two to four times a year to formulate major policies.
It is the first time the party has convened a plenary session only to discuss agriculture. Monday’s report didn’t elaborate on its agenda, but the party’s Politburo said earlier this month that “a turning point is needed to dynamically promote radical change in agricultural development.”
Most analysts say North Korea’s food situation today is nowhere near the extremes of the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine. However, some experts say its food insecurity is likely at its worst since Kim took power in 2011, after COVID-19 restrictions further shocked an economy battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions imposed over Kim’s nuclear programme.
Russia’s war on Ukraine possibly worsened the situation by driving up global prices of food, energy and fertiliser.
It’s unclear whether North Korea will take any significant steps to address food shortages. The impoverished country devotes much of its scarce resources to its nuclear programme.
Some experts say Kim likely aims to burnish his image as a leader who cares for public livelihoods as he seeks public support of his fight against US-led sanctions and pressure campaigns.
State media reported that Kim and his “beloved” daughter broke ground Saturday on a project to build thousands of new homes in the Sopho district of Pyongyang, the capital. It was the seventh known public activity involving Kim’s daughter believed to about 10 years old since she made her first public appearance in November.
Last year, North Korea reopened freight train traffic with China and Russia and relaxed domestic restrictions, after it made a highly dubious claim that it overcome the pandemic only three months after it acknowledged its first domestic outbreak.
Analysts say it’s still unlikely for North Korea to completely end its curbs anytime soon because many of its people remain unvaccinated and its public health care system is largely broken.


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