UCA News

Millions go hungry amid food crisis in North Korea

Poor harvests due to drought 'has made the situation more critical than the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022'
North Korean cooperative farm workers spread fertilizer in a rice field of Unpha county

North Korean cooperative farm workers spread fertilizer in a rice field of Unpha county. (Photo: AFP via RFA)

Published: May 26, 2023 10:52 AM GMT
Updated: May 26, 2023 10:55 AM GMT

A worsening food crisis in North Korea has triggered starvation and malnutrition for millions and disrupted cooperative farming in provinces, forcing people to flee the communist nation illegally, says a report.

The situation is worse than the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022, said an economic planner in Ryanggang province, the Korean Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on May 23.

“The current food crisis on the cooperative farms in Ryanggang and Chagang is so serious that it cannot be compared to 2022, the time of the coronavirus pandemic,” the unnamed resident said.

Potato, the main agricultural product in the northern region, has seen a drastic decline in production due to drought.

“They need 8 tons of potatoes per jeongbo for sowing in the spring. So, in the worst case, they only grew enough to save for seeds,” the unnamed source said. One jeongbo equals to 2.45 acres (about 1 hectare).

Taehongdan County, a potato production hub, only harvested between 8 to 15 tons per jeongbo due to last year’s extreme drought.

"North Korea would fall short of around 800,000 tons of rice this year"

The cost of potatoes at Hyesan in Ryanggang province was 2,000 Korean Won per kilogram (US$0.2), the highest since 2015.

“It’s evidence that the food shortage for the residents in the northern mountainous area is serious,” an unnamed official said.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) in a recent report pointed out that North Korea would fall short of around 800,000 tons of rice this year — a situation that has been triggered by droughts in the country.

North Korea has faced consistent food shortages for the past few years. However, a drought last year ruined potato and corn harvests and the situation was further complicated by import bans from China due to the border closure in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many of the laborers who used to work in the collective farms in North Korea are unable to do so because of malnutrition and the army has been sent to pick up the slack.

In North Korea’s collective farming system, the farmers in a locality work together under the guidance of government officials to plant and harvest the food that is later shared among the communities.

During the Covid-19 restrictions for collective gatherings, the government distributed a plot of land to each family to cultivate so that they would not meet each other and potentially spread the virus.

However, after the labor sector reopened after the pandemic, attendance was low due to malnutrition and officials are now facing the challenge of bringing in labor and at the same time ensuring enough food for sustenance is provided.

"Around 42 percent of the country’s population is malnourished due to food shortages"

The Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Committee in North Korea has warned lower-level administrative and party officials that they would be “severely punished,” in the event of any farmer deaths, RFA reported.

According to a second unnamed resident, the government-run farm managers have collected food from rich people in their areas to distribute among the starving farmers.

“They borrowed the food, promising that they would pay it back double in the fall, and distributed it to the farm workers to sustain their lives,” the second unnamed resident said.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, Elizabeth Salmón, pointed out that around 42 percent of the country’s population is malnourished due to food shortages.

The food shortage and the economic conditions in the country have forced many to take a perilous journey across the border to South Korea for better living conditions.

Recently, two families totaling around 10 members including children had escaped from North Korea, RFA reported.

“It is a fact that North Koreans recently defected to South Korea, and a joint investigation [with the military] is underway,” a representative of the NIS said.

Reportedly, the two families were inspired to flee from North Korea after they saw the South Korean TV show “Now on My Way to Meet You,” which features North Korean escapees adjusting to their new lives in the South.

In North Korea, the family was a target of discrimination and ridicule because of their late father being rejected from joining the Korean Workers’ Party, which is the gateway to preferential jobs, education, social standing, and better food rations.

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, the number of North Korean defectors fleeing to South Korea has declined,

The number was 1,000 per year until 2019, but it dropped sharply to only 229 in 2020 due to the Covid-19 border closure and increased surveillance in the border areas.

The number was 63 and 67 in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

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4 Comments on this Story
We need a Robin Hood in North Korea who can steal from the Kim regime and give it to the average poor.
I felt bad for the average North Korean citizen for are mostly poor. These people deserved to be fed.
This is why North Koreans need Christ.
Starvation due to drought?! No. The Kim regime is to blame. They are intentionally starting these people. INTENTIONALLY.
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