According to experts, North Korea is currently facing a severe food crisis. Although the country has a history of struggling with food shortages, the situation has been exacerbated in recent years due to factors such as border restrictions, unfavorable weather conditions, and sanctions.
Top officials are expected to meet at the end of February to discuss a "fundamental change" to agriculture policy, the state media has said.
This is a "very important and urgent task" amid "pressing" farming issues, news aggregator KCNA Watch reported. The news comes as Pyongyang continues its displays of military might.
South Korea's unification ministry has reportedly also sounded the alarm on the food shortages and asked the World Food Programme (WFP) for help.
South Korean authorities' use of satellite imagery reveals that the North produced 180,000 metric tons less food in 2022 than it did in 2021.
The WFP expressed concern in June about how drought and flooding could affect both the production of winter and spring crops. The nation was reportedly going through its "second worst" drought on record as of late last year, according to state media.
According to predictions, food costs have increased this year due to poor harvests, and people are turning to less expensive options, according to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a journalist for the North Korea-focused publication 38North.org.
Beginning in 2023, the price of corn has increased by 20% due to rising demand for the less popular than rice but less expensive staple, according to Rimjin-gang, a North Korean magazine published in Japan.
According to Silberstein, if people are purchasing more corn, it means that food in general and staple foods like rice, in particular, are becoming more expensive. The current price of the crop is about 3,400 North Korean won ($3.80; £3.10) per kilogram.
One of the world's most impoverished nations is North Korea. Although there are few recent estimates, the CIA World Factbook predicts that in 2015, its gross domestic product per capita will be around $1,700.
The non-profit Liberty in North Korea's (Link) Sokeel Park, the organization's country director for South Korea, called the regime's response to the pandemic "extreme and paranoid."
The availability of necessities in the North has been decreasing ever since the pandemic began, according to Park, whose organization assists in resettling North Korean refugees in South Korea or the US. According to Park, there have been numerous, reliable reports of people starving to death.
The amount of humanitarian aid provided to the nation has also significantly decreased, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In 2017, North Korea received $2.3 million (£1.9 million) from international organizations and other agencies, down from $14 million in 2021.
While this might be due to extended border closures, some aid workers told the BBC that the tightening of international sanctions in response to North Korea's military provocations has also made it more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.
Nevertheless, there are some indications that international trade is picking up again. Over 90% of North Korea's trade is conducted via truck, according to a recent report from Nikkei Asia.
The average North Korean's standard of living may not necessarily rise as a result.
According to Park, the regime has prioritized missile prowess and propaganda at the expense of social costs. Pyongyang launched a record number of ballistic missiles last year—more than 70 in total, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, capable of reaching the US mainland. It displayed its largest-ever display of ICBMs at a military parade earlier this month.
"The regime has acknowledged how difficult life is for ordinary North Koreans, but it continues to prioritize propaganda and pageantry for the Kim family, missile launches, and strict population controls," Park added.
Experts fear that the situation on the ground will worsen, leading to a famine as devastating as the one the country experienced in the mid-to-late 1990s, dubbed the "Arduous March" in official documents. According to estimates, 600,000 million people died.
"We don't appear to be anywhere close to the levels of the 1990s famine," Silberstein said. "However, the margins are razor thin. As a result, even a slight decrease in the food supply could have disastrous consequences."