Food Shortage in North Korea

Published: 20 Oct 2017

North KoreaNorth Korea is due to face food shortages, after the combination of severe drought and a bad harvest.

Rainfall had begun to improve in August, but it comes too late to save the crops from the effects of drought.

Poor harvest conditions

Officials from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have noted that food shortages are likely to rock the small nation, which has been receiving food from China in spite of strict sanctions.

Cereal production was at a record low in 2001, when poor rainfall sabotaged that year’s crops. However, the rainfall recorded this year has been significantly lower – prompting concerns that poor families in the dictatorship may struggle to survive without aid. The UN has also reported that around 20% of their herd animals have been severely affected in the worst-hit regions of the country.

Bad HarvestFood shortages are already an issue, with much of the population reported as underfed. They get most of their nutrition from cereals, potatoes, and soybeans, which means that their main food source is now severely compromised. North Koreans are estimated to eat around 1,640 calories per day, which is much less than the 2,000 recommended for the average adult male, and that number may fall for many with the drought.

This could be especially difficult for those in food produce jobs, who may be blamed for the shortages. Life inside the dictatorship is largely secretive, but we know that any mishaps befalling citizens in general are usually blamed on the evil of the west – and that people within the regime may be chosen as scapegoats and executed at the whim of their leader.

Lack of options

As for bringing in food for elsewhere, there are not many options left. North Korea faces sanctions from the UN and most countries around the world refuse to trade with the dictatorship. There aren’t many supply chain jobs in North Korea, that’s for sure.

"They are facing a very bad harvest. And with the latest sanctions, [Kim] won't be able to pay in credit for his oil imports anymore," explains Mark Matthews, head of research for Asia at Julius Baer.

The latest round of sanctions has been a direct response to North Korea’s threat of using nuclear weapons. The UN hopes to pressure Kim Jong Un into giving up those weapons, and to stop him from testing other arms, which the US is beginning to see as declarations of intent. This, together with the food shortages, will likely damage the economy in the country severely.

WeaponsThe current thinking is that if Kim gives up his weapons, or at least stops testing them for a while, aid may be arranged from China or even from the US. While the dictatorship is one that most of the world would rather see taken down, the starvation of innocent citizens is not a price that many are willing to pay.

The regime has not been able to achieve self-sufficiency, and is not able to feed all of the people in the nation without food aid from outside. The citizens of North Korea are reported as having to rely on the black markets just to buy enough rice, produce, school supplies, and alcohol to get by.

Chinese exports have increased hugely over the past year, likely as a direct response to the looming crisis. However, this does mean that Pyongyang is increasingly becoming more reliant on Beijing to survive. This political climate could produce some interesting results within the next few years, as Kim remains seemingly determined to prove himself as a new leader.

Full production estimates from the UN will be released after the end of October.

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