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North Korea Seen Unlikely to Change Despite Chronic Food Shortage

FILE - A man walks on a dirt path between cornfields in Nampho, North Korea, in June 2015, when the country was enduring what state media called "the worst drought in 100 years."
FILE - A man walks on a dirt path between cornfields in Nampho, North Korea, in June 2015, when the country was enduring what state media called "the worst drought in 100 years."

North Korea’s food production could drop more than 10 percent this year, raising new concern about the country’s constant struggle to feed its people, the U.N. agricultural agency said.

North Korea is projected to produce 3.7 million tons of rice and corn this year, a 14 percent decrease from 4.3 million tons last year, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization released Thursday.

North Korea’s food production has often been hampered by drought. State media reported in June that the country had suffered “the worst drought in 100 years.”

But in late August, heavy rain caused major floods in the country, devastating crop production. Recently, the communist country cut its food rations to an average of 250 grams a day, a 21 percent decline from a three-year average.

The U.N. agency warned that the country’s food shortages could worsen next year. North Korea needs 5.4 million tons of food a year but is expected to secure only 4.2 million tons next year.

Severe shortages

Kwon Tae-jin, an economic analyst in Seoul who specializes in North Korea’s agriculture, said the country might be facing the worst food shortages in recent years.

“It would not be a stretch to say they will be short of up to 1.2 million tons of food from the minimum requirement,” Kwon told VOA.

The warning about Pyongyang’s food situation came ahead of Saturday's high-profile celebration of an anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. During the rare event, North Korea is expected to showcase its military force with a massive parade. South Korean press has speculated North Korea could mobilize 30,000 soldiers and its military hardware, including aircraft and missiles.

Pyongyang has ratcheted up its rhetoric against Seoul and Washington while preparing for the commemoration. Analysts in Seoul say the anniversary serves as an important political event for Kim Jong Un.

Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, still needs to show to his people and the world that he is capable of leading the country, according to North Korea watchers. Some analysts say Kim could deliver a message about the country’s nuclear stance and ailing economy, regarded as key issues for the country by many experts.

Nam Gwang-gyu, a professor at Korea University, said Kim is likely to vow to enhance nuclear deterrence against the United States.

“Kim might claim his country’s right to keep nuclear weapons and missiles, and the message is likely to be aimed at Washington,” said Nam.

Nuclear stance

Many analysts believe the North Korean leader will try to strengthen the so-called dual policy of pursuing economic and nuclear development simultaneously.

Kang In-duck, former South Korean unification minister and longtime North Korea watcher, said Pyongyang’s policy is doomed to fail.

“As long as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, the international community has no other option but to impose sanctions against Pyongyang. Under sanctions, Pyongyang will not be able to attract foreign investment, which is key to revitalizing its economy,” said the former minister.

The U.N. agencies and aid groups are appealing for international aid for North Korea, saying the country is suffering from chronic food shortages. According to humanitarian experts, international donations to North Korea dropped significantly in recent years as tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear development heightened.

Last week, the U.N. World Food Program said its aid to the country’s vulnerable people, including children and pregnant women, dropped 44 percent last month because of a lack of funds.

Kim Hwan Yong and Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.