North Korea has acknowledged “drawbacks” in its agricultural sector this year, echoing UN reports of declining crop yields in a country that remains heavily reliant on food imports and aid.
Agricultural production is chronically poor in the nation, which has periodically been hit by famine, with hundreds of thousands dying — some estimates say millions — in the mid-1990s.
North Korean Premier Pak Pong-ju referred to “drawbacks made by some farms and units in the past” at a national meeting of farming officials in Pyongyang this week, state media said yesterday.
“He said that they failed to conduct seed production and management in a responsible, way and also fell short of doing proper strain distribution,” Pak was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency in an English-language report.
He “underscored the need to attain the goal of grain production” set out in a five-year development plan that wraps up in 2020, the report said.
Pyongyang has been less hesitant in highlighting shortcomings and policy failures through its state media since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un succeeded his late father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.
The young, Swiss-educated leader has occasionally been reported rebuking officials for failing to satisfactorily carry out tasks.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization this month said that North Korea would need to import 641,000 tonnes of food next year. The figure is up from 456,000 tonnes this year, when it bought 390,000 tonnes and received 66,000 tonnes in food aid.
There was a widespread lack of access to food in North Korea, it said.
North Korea was one of 40 countries — 31 of them in Africa — identified by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization as in need of external assistance for food.
UN agencies estimate that 10.3 million people in North Korea need humanitarian assistance, but donor funding has dried up in the face of political tensions over its weapons programs, with critics saying the provision of aid encourages Pyongyang to prioritize its military ambitions over adequately providing for its people.
David Beasley, the head of the UN’s World Food Program, in May said that there was undoubtedly a hunger problem in North Korea, but it was not on the scale of the 1990s famine.
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