North Korea to Buy 600,000 Tons of Grain From China


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According to Yonhap News Agency’s report (March 18), North Korea is facing a severe food crisis, and the scale of food imports from China has increased significantly. Many North Korean sources revealed that North Korea issued an instruction to purchase 600,000 tons of Grain from China. South Korean experts estimate North Korea is short around 1 million tons of Grain, 20 percent of its annual demand.  North Korea has a population of 26 million.

According to South Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA), North Korean agricultural output declined by 3.8 percent last year compared to 2021. More specifically, the RDA estimated the country’s crop production was 4.51 million tons in 2022, down 180,000 tons from 2021. The report said the growth of all crops was impacted by floods, drought, and other unfavorable weather conditions. Among different crops, rice production was most seriously damaged by natural disasters, declining 4.2 percent (90,000 tons).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted in its “World Food Security Assessment 2022-2032” report, published last year that the food shortage in North Korea in 2022 would be 1.21 million tons – meaning the country requires urgent assistance.

Although the North Korean regime has sought to meet that gap through Grain purchases from China and Russia through the railway trade, chronic food problems still need to be urgently solved.

North Korea’s Agricultural Reform for Wheat Production

During the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) meetings held in February this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged government officials to engineer a “fundamental transformation” in agricultural production amid fears that the country’s food shortage is worsening.

Although its reform measures remain veiled, the Government seems to have recalibrated agricultural policy by envisaging an increase in Wheat production as part of its efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency. Since 2021, North Korea has begun encouraging farmers to produce Wheat, which has not been among the country’s traditional crops, such as rice, Corn, and potato.

At the fourth plenary meeting of the Eighth WPK Central Committee at the end of 2022, Kim said the changing of North Korea’s Grain production structure and the heavy promotion of rice and Wheat farming are major party tasks. To achieve this goal, he called for increasing nationwide acreage for paddy and upfield rice and doubling the acreage for Wheat and Barley. At the seventh plenary meeting, held in February this year, Kim Jong Un also said, “We will create conditions for improving the dietary life in a civilized way by guaranteeing white rice and Wheat flour to the people.”

The recent efforts by Pyongyang to transform crop production are not unique in North Korea’s agricultural history. In the aftermath of the widespread starvation in the 1990s, North Korea began promoting the cultivation of potatoes, as an alternative crop to Corn, under the slogan of the “potato revolution.” As a result, the production of potatoes successfully increased in the 2000s, which contributed to solving the country’s food problem.

Despite this successful story, since North Korea is likely facing another food crisis due to its mismanagement and unavoidable climate phenomena, the government decided to restructure the spectrum of crop production by promoting Wheat as a staple food along with rice. According to Daily NK, the farmland for cultivating Wheat, mainly in South Pyeongan province, was expanded by 30 percent in 2021, usurping Corn and potato fields. As a result, the output of Wheat and Barley increased by 12.5 percent, while the production of Corn and potatoes declined in 2022 by 1.3 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from 2021 levels.

Other sources: THE DIPLOMAT

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