Meanwhile, a series of natural calamities have only added to the suffering. A typhoon last year may have dented food grain production by about 860,000 tons, equivalent to almost two months of food grain requirement in what was already a situation of scarcity. The estimated food deficit of about 1 million metric tons last year meant that the average North Korean was consuming about 445 calories lesser per day than the 2,100-calorie-diet recommended by the United Nations. Raising production by 20-30 percent for a poorly performing agriculture appears well within reach, provided that the political and socioeconomic conditions are favourable. The challenge of achieving SDG 2 and its targets of ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture may be achievable for this small nation, if the political situation is conducive for North Korea to be integrated in the global community of trading nations. And if the country opens itself to external know-how, technological inputs, and best practices. However, the current situation in North Korea is far from what is needed. According to FAO and CELAC (2020) “A person is food-insecure when they lack physical, social, and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their nutritional needs and food preferences and lead an active and healthy life.” Insufficient agricultural production and land, non-availability of inputs, machinery and fuel, poor infrastructure, continuous mono-cropping, and limited capacity to cope with frequent climate-induced disasters have resulted in chronic food insecurity and malnutrition for as large as 40 percent of its population who is in urgent need of assistance. Moreover, continuous mono-cropping and poor yields, year after year, have created a gap in agricultural production and food needs to the tune of 1 million tons each year. To make matters worse, the crisis is coupled with sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities making them unaffordable and inaccessible. The situation resonates well with Amartya Sen's entitlement approach, that diverts the attention away from food availability as the main driver of food crisis to the issue of access to food. Entitlement refers to “the set of alternative commodity bundles that a person can command in a society using the totality of right and opportunities that he or she faces”. Famines mostly occur when people experience a dramatic reduction in their 'entitlements' that may or may not necessarily be dependent on the extent of crop failure.
The regime’s priority in making North Korea a defense economy has overshadowed development and food production, while allocating precious resources to the military industrial complex, and bringing down living standards drastically. Such suffering of the large section of the populace can only be contained by state oppression and denial of basic human rights.
However, in reality the problem of food security is a complex issue not just confined to access but is largely driven by political and policy issues that government conducts. In the words of Bob Currie “people's food security is dependent both on the availability of food; and on people's command over that food, which is frequently a function of their purchasing power.” Currie further states that the issue of patterns of distribution of food is equally important to the concept of food security. Famines and food insecurity are political crises as much as they are economic shocks. Meeting the food demand of the growing population, and improving nutritional outcomes will require North Korea to transition towards sustainable food systems and diversification. Adopting sustainable agriculture production techniques that can minimise the climate and environmental impacts and increase the resilience of food systems to shocks/uncertainties are critical to ensure stability of supply. Finally, in the backdrop of sanctions, fuel restrictions, and lack of modern machinery and equipment, it is in the best interest of North Korea to seek substantial food provision through aid and ease the rigidity of border controls. What will remain, however, crucial to observe is how such aid is distributed.
Famines mostly occur when people experience a dramatic reduction in their 'entitlements' that may or may not necessarily be dependent on the extent of crop failure.
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Preeti Kapuria was a Fellow at ORF Kolkata with research interests in the area of environment development and agriculture. The approach is to understand the ...Read More +