Evidence of a possible food crisis in North Korea has been mounting in recent weeks, with one South Korean think tank reporting that the country may be facing a grain shortage of as much as 1.35 million tons and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reporting that the overall food shortage in the country may be 860,000 tons.
During a recent plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Jong Un acknowledged North Korea’s difficult food situation, reportedly telling assembled party officials that the country’s food situation “is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production plan due to the damage by typhoon last year”.
North Korea was hit last year by a series of deadly typhoons that impacted crops and agricultural infrastructure, and by a particularly long monsoon season that produced major flooding that also saw crops damaged.
North Korean state media has since reported on additional details of the plenary meeting, with a documentary produced covering the four-day event detailing that one of the agenda items discussed was officially labeled “On establishing an emergency policy on overcoming the current food crisis”. According to the documentary, efforts to combat the self-described crisis will include public distribution of grain.
The decision to begin public distribution of grain has led some analysts to suggest that North Korea is attempting a major revival of the country’s Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS was a ration system first implemented by North Korea in the 1950s that involved distribution of both food and other goods such as clothes household goods. The PDS remained central to the lives of most North Koreans until the 1990s, before the system largely collapsed in the face of a major famine that ravished the country.
The failure of the PDS during the famine led to the emergence of private market activity that remains in place today. Such activity has largely supplanted government distribution as the primary source of food and other daily necessities for many North Koreans, with surveys of defectors in recent years finding that far more North Koreans rely on private markets as opposed to government distribution.