May 20, 2020 13:17
North Korea will have a shortage of some 860,000 tons of food this year, according to an estimate by the Unification Ministry here on Tuesday.
State media have lately been urging people to "increase agricultural output."
That has sparked fears of another famine in the North this year because it has trouble importing food amid a border lockdown due to the coronavirus epidemic on top of economic difficulties already caused by drawn-out international sanctions.
"North Korea naturally had trouble importing grains since it closed borders in late January," a ministry official said.
Last year, the North produced about 4.64 million tons of grains, about 15 percent less than the 5.5 million tons of grains it normally needs to feed its people. It already suffers a chronic shortage of some 1 million tons of food every year that is usually made up by China.
On Monday, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warned that countries with vulnerable food systems like North Korea could suffer a food crisis due to the coronavirus epidemic.
The official Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday said the key to increasing agricultural production lies in whether to succeed in transplanting rice seedlings. The daily urged farmers to "work with a sense of tension each hour, each day in springtime to yield a bumper crop."
One researcher with a state-funded think tank here said, "The North is in desperate need of food self-sufficiency to sustain itself until late this year, when the presidential election is held in the U.S. It seems that the regime is putting everything on the line in this year's farming."
But there was some skepticism of the Unification Ministry's estimate here because it happens to chime with the government’s quixotic efforts to stimulate cross-border exchange and cooperation.
Last June, the government offered 50,000 tons of rice to the North through the World Food Programme and authorized spending of W41.42 billion for the purchase and shipment (US$1=W1,227). The North turned down the offer.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com