North Korea Drought Risks Poor Harvests This Year, UN Says

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A three-month drought in North Korea risks causing poor harvests in the isolated state this year and is raising food-security concerns, according to the United Nations.

A dry spell from mid-April through early June “led to moisture deficits particularly in the central and southern ‘food basket’ provinces,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report dated Wednesday. The drought is adversely affecting plantings, the UN wrote.

The drought threatens to stall a rise in food production reported in the three years since Kim Jong Un took power. In his first public address in 2012 he pledged to ensure North Koreans would no longer have to “tighten their belts.” Since then, he has conducted reforms to provide greater incentives to farmers and cut the size of farming units to boost efficiency, according to the Seoul-based Hyundai Research Institute.

“Food production is still extremely volatile and vulnerable to unpredictable weather changes, and weather may be responsible even for trends that unfold over several years,” Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a fellow at Stockholm Free World Forum, wrote on 38 North, a blog monitoring North Korea. “North Korea’s improved harvests, then, may simply have been a result of a multi-year streak of good weather, not necessarily an outcome of reforms.”

The drought has led to reductions in planting of this year’s staple rice crop and has badly affected the yield potential of crops such as maize and soybeans, the UN report said.

North Korea suffered from a massive famine in the mid-1990s and is the most undernourished nation in Asia, the FAO said in late May. The official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that North Korea is suffering from the “worst drought in 100 years” with rivers and streams going dry.

About 70 percent of North Koreans struggle to secure food supplies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report in June last year. The department forecasts a slide to 40 percent by 2024 due to low projected population growth.

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