North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered infrastructure improvements and farmland expansion to increase food production, according to state media, amid warnings of an impending food crisis.
Kim gave instructions to revamp irrigation systems, build modern farming machines, and create more arable land as the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee concluded its seventh enlarged plenary meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting began on Sunday to discuss the “urgent” task of improving the agricultural sector.
South Korea has warned of an mounting food crisis in the isolated North, including a recent surge in deaths from hunger in some regions, due in part to what it said was a failure of a new grain policy limiting private crop transactions.
North Korea’s economy has been battered by floods and typhoons, sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, and a sharp decline in trade with China amid border closures and COVID-19 lockdowns.
South Korea’s rural development agency estimated the North’s crop production fell nearly 4% last year from the year before, citing heavy summer rains and other economic conditions.
Kim laid out plans and specific tasks to build “rich and highly-civilised socialist rural communities with advanced technology and modern civilisation,” the official KCNA news agency said.
He ordered revamp of the irrigation system to cope with climate change, production of efficient farming machines to modernise production, and reclamation of tidelands to expand farming areas, KCNA said.
A lack of adequate agricultural infrastructure, machinery and supplies including fertilisers and fuel have made North Korea more vulnerable to natural disasters, experts say.
The mountainous country has also sought to expand arable land through tideland reclamation along its west coast since the 1980s, but earlier efforts failed due partly to poor engineering and maintenance.
Under Kim, reclamation projects have been relatively more successful, but with slow progress in converting coastal mudflats into fertile farmland, they did little to ease food shortages, the U.S.-based 38 North project said in late 2021.
“The state media report said they set new goals and action plans, but I don’t see anything new as all of the elements including irrigation and reclamation have already been raised before,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean studies in Seoul, also noted the report did not suggest new ideas or a possible change in the grain policy which South Korea blamed for food shortages.
KCNA said Kim stressed the need to tighten discipline in implementing the economic plan, warning against “practices of weakening the organisational and executive power of the cabinet,” and ordered all party units to “get their working efficiency verified.”
The Central Committee also discussed ways to improve the country’s financial management, KCNA reported, without elaborating.