About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The North Korean government believes urgent action will be needed to ensure food security for the country in April, a document obtained by NK News last week showed, with grain output in 2018 having reportedly fallen by 10% compared to the previous year.
In an undated Korean-language memo carrying the emblem of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the North Korean government said crop yields in 2018 had amounted to 4,951,000 tons, 503,000 tons less than the previous year.
The document — which a source familiar with the issue said was a diplomatic memo — sees Pyongyang say it will “strive to ensure food security by concentrating its efforts on farming to increase the output of early-ripening crops and the production of basic crops for the immediate future.”
Steps to import food from other countries should be taken “urgently,” it added, asking the recipient to “understand the dangerousness of the current food situation and make utmost efforts to [take action] in due course.”
The document also said plans “must be realized during April,” though it did not specify what kind of measures should be taken.
Given that the name An Kwang Il — who serves as the DPRK Ambassador to Indonesia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — is listed on the bottom of the document, it’s possible that he was the intended recipient.
The South Korean weekly newsmagazine Sisa Journal in March, too, obtained what appears to be the same document, reporting the instruction was sent to ambassador An.
The document appears to be a follow-up measure to a circulated memo entitled “Urgent food assistant called for” reportedly written by North Korean ambassador to the UN Kim Song in February and obtained by U.S. TV network NBC.
Both memos cite statistics based on a joint food assessment carried by the World Food Program (WFP) and the DPRK between November 26 to December 7.
The document obtained by NK News says the DPRK stood to face an “absolute shortage” of provisions, despite importing 200,000 tons of food and producing 400,000 tons of early-ripening crops.
The memo blames “sanctions” as one of the reasons for the diminished grain harvest, explaining that they had served to “restrain the supply of agricultural supplies” including “farming equipment and materials and chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide.”
The international sanctions framework also “limits the collection of refined crude oil,” it continued.
Natural disasters such as high temperatures, drought, and flooding, too, were listed as causing the drop in food production.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley earlier this month stressed that food shortages remained a “serious issue” for North Korea, urging western donors to take action.
Speaking in an interview with the Guardian, Beasley also warned of a severe impact on children if no measures were taken “by the time the lean season truly kicks in by June.”
Early March saw the Russian embassy in Pyongyang announce that its government had delivered 2092 tons of wheat to the North via the WFP, with DPRK state-run media reporting on April 4 that the shipment had arrived at Humgnam Port two days prior.
Despite the calls for aid, mentions of the apparent food shortages by North Korean media have been sparse.
“But North Korean state media’s coverage of the food situation since last summer been on the positive end of the spectrum,” NK Pro analyst Minyoung Lee said.
“If the food situation was really dire, North Korea could have used external media such as KCNA to detail its food shortages and appeal to the international audiences for help,” she continued.
“North Korea in past instances of drought and flood signaled concern via both domestic and external outlets.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: WFP/Silke Buhr