SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged government officials to make sure the country meets its grain production goals “without fail”, state media said Thursday, amid reports Pyongyang’s food shortage is worsening.
The isolated, nuclear-armed nation — which is under multiple sets of sanctions over its weapons programmes — has long struggled to feed itself.
North Korea has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from the COVID-19 pandemic, only resuming some trade with China last year.
Kim “ardently called for attaining this year’s grain production goal without fail”, on Wednesday, the last day of a key meeting by the ruling party, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.
“In order to increase the nationwide agricultural output, attention should be paid to overcoming the lopsidedness in the guidance on farming … and it is important to concentrate on increasing the per-hectare yield at all the farms,” the report added.
The latest report comes after Kim on Monday called for a “fundamental transformation” in the country’s agricultural production, and South Korea’s unification ministry said last month there had been reports of starvation deaths in the North.
“We judge the food shortages there to be grave,” ministry spokesman Koo Byoung-sam said in February, adding Pyongyang appeared to have requested food aid from the World Food Programme.
The impoverished North has long been criticised for prioritising its military and banned nuclear weapons programmes over adequately providing for its people.
In 2021, Kim made rare references to the hardship, saying the food situation in the North was getting “tense” and warning the people to prepare for the “worst-ever situation”.
In the same year, Pyongyang’s state-run KCTV admitted the country was facing a “food crisis”.
Kim also focused on food security and development in his agenda-setting speech for 2022.
The country has periodically been hit by famines, one of which in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands of people — some estimates range into millions.
It is highly vulnerable to natural disasters including flood and drought due to a chronic lack of infrastructure, deforestation and decades of state mismanagement.