Nobody knows how much food the DPRK needs–especially them.

According to the Choson Ilbo:  

While the World Food Program says the North is facing a food crisis, exact statistics appear to be tough to gauge. Returning from food aid talks in the U.S., a ranking Seoul diplomat told reporters, “The U.S. also seems to be experiencing difficulties figuring out the exact food condition in North Korea, as it has to rely on remarks by North Korean officials [but] the North appears to have become more flexible on monitoring issues in the last couple of months.”

In all honesty, North Korean officials probably have no idea how much food their country needs either. Why? 

1.  North Korea’s statistical apparatus broke down a long time ago.  Production records are still kept on-site in paper notebooks. There is no comunications or computing technology to measure actual production. Throw in a few fires, floods, etc. and you are running blind.  But even if such technology existed, collective farmers, as with most factory workers in socialist systems, routinely inflate their production numbers, and the regime’s ability to detect and punish this kind of behavior is very weak–and they know it.

2. There is no commodities market in the DPRK to tell officials how much food is being produced privately.  Additionally, the paucity of communications and transportation infrastructure, combined with severe barriers to entrepreneurship, prevents North Korea’s agricultural markets from becomming as integrated as they could be.  Higher price volatility and short term scarcity are the results.  Rumors can send prices through the roof because nothing can be confirmed.

3. There has been no audit of the DPRK’s population since before the last famine, so we don’t even know how many of them there are or where they live.

In all honesty, I think we (the international community) can do a better job of determining how much food they need than they can.  Here is a great place to start.


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