The paradoxes of North Korea’s food situation

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

A lot of things are going on in North Korean agriculture and food production these days. First, there was the drought. I haven’t seen any unequivocal assessments showing with certainty that the damage wasn’t as bad as feared, but both outside and regime sources certainly seem to be indicating this. Then, a few weeks ago, a regime source said that food production had even increased this year, thanks to management reforms in agriculture. And now, international relief agencies are reporting that the nearly yearly flooding has hit the country once again, damaging food production.

How can one reconcile all these events?

It may of course be that the earlier assessment published in Tongil Sinbo, with an optimistic forecast of food production, took the coming flooding into account and assumed that food production, overall, would still be up. Crop damage so far seems far smaller than it has been in previous years. 4,000 hectares have been reported as damaged this year, while the equivalent figure in 2013 was 13,300.

It may also be that the Tongil Sinbo claims were premature, but it is difficult to see why a North Korean regime source would claim production increases without taking potential damage from torrential rains into account. After all, they keep on coming year after year. Still, it seems risky to claim success for agricultural production before the August rains. North Korean publication routines are too murky to tell exactly how it is decided what information should be released and when.

It could also be that regions were agricultural reforms have been implemented have seen harvests increase, while others have been hit worse by both the drought and the floods. Reforms have so far been implemented on a local experimental basis and it could be that the success has been so great in localities where they have been tried that production has increased overall, despite both the flooding and the drought.

Hopefully, some of the confusion will clear as more information becomes available about the flooding damage. Natural disasters, after all, tend to increase the information flow from North Korea somewhat through the extended work of relief agencies.

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