North Korea turns to India for rice despite food shortages

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Pyongyang appears to be seeking rice donations from India as Kim Jong Un’s regime alerted the nation to avoid flood damage to farmland from a typhoon passing through its eastern coast.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that cities and counties in North Hwanghae Province, south of Pyongyang, had taken measures “to minimize damage to crops close to the harvest” as Typhoon Hinnamnor approached the east coast of North Korea after making landfall in South Korea. tuesday

On the same day, Kim held a meeting calling for efforts “to prevent disasters” and protect “the state’s prosperity and development.”

How the typhoon will affect North Korea’s unharvested crops is unclear. But food shortages are expected to worsen due to flooding of farmland in August and strict border closures in Pyongyang linked to COVID-19.

“With floods again destroying crops, like last year, and continued border restrictions from North Korea, there is reason to believe that access to food is more restricted than before the pandemic. “said Troy Stangarone, senior director of the Korea Economic Institute.

Ask for help from India

VOA’s Korean service has learned that Pyongyang has turned to India for rice, its staple food, which it usually imports from China.

Manpreet Singh, executive chairman of the Indian Chamber of International Commerce, an organization that helps Indian small and medium-sized businesses grow globally, told the Korea Service in an Aug. 30 email that officials from the he North Korean embassy had visited the organization in New Delhi.

“We were approached by the embassy to look into the possibility of rice donations” because “the floods destroyed most of the crop,” Singh said.

North Korea’s UN mission in New York did not respond to questions from Korea’s VOA service about its food situation and seeking outside help. North Korea has rejected South Korea’s offer of economic aid in exchange for its denuclearization, a deal described in South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “bold move” presented on August 15.

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s influential sister, responded on August 19, saying, “No one trades their fate for corn cake.”

Bradley Babson, a former World Bank adviser and current advisory board member of the Korean Economic Institute of America, said Pyongyang sought out the Indian business group instead of aid organizations because, for health reasons or policies, he probably wants to avoid aid acceptance requirements. workers in the country to monitor the distribution of aid.

“He could get a few thousand tonnes from a country like India or Vietnam that won’t insist on monitoring requirements,” Babson said.

VOA’s Korean service also learned on August 26 of an announcement seeking a vessel to transport 10,000 tons of rice from the port of Vizag in eastern India to the port of Nampo in North Korea between August 25 and September 30. The announcement is circulating via email in the global shipping industry.

A source with knowledge of the announcement told the Korean service that the party exporting the rice wants to ship the long-grain variety commonly grown in India, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. North Korea grows and consumes short-grain rice.

It remains to be seen whether Pyongyang’s investigation of the Indian Chamber of International Commerce over rice donations and the Indian exporter’s attempt to ship rice to North Korea are linked.

“The 10,000 tons of rice is not a lot of rice” considering North Korea’s food deficit, Babson said. “I see them as largely symbolic and not really as a solution to [its] food problem, which I think is extremely serious this year.”

“WFP remains committed”

According to a 2021 report by the UN’s World Food Program, North Korea suffers from “chronic food insecurity and malnutrition” despite “government efforts to mitigate the effect of food deficits”.

Kun Li, spokesperson for the WFP’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, told the Korea service on Wednesday that the WFP and other international humanitarian organizations that left North Korea at the start of the pandemic will not cannot return to resume aid operations due to the closure of its borders.

“WFP remains committed to the people of the DPRK in need of assistance and looks forward to being able to resume operations as soon as the borders reopen to international staff and cargo,” Li said.

North Korea needs about 5.7 million tons of food for its population of about 26 million, according to the Korea Development Institute, based in Seoul. In 2021, the country lacked about 860,000 tons of food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Stangarone said Pyongyang might import rice from India because “North Korea doesn’t want to become too dependent on China for its imports.” However, he added, “India may soon restrict rice exports as parts of India see less rain. It is potentially facing its own shortages as rice plantings have shrunk by 13% “.

North Korea normally imports rice from China, buying more than $5.15 million in July, which equates to about 10,000 tons of rice, according to Chinese customs data reviewed by VOA Korea Service.

China also experienced a severe drought this summer, putting its agricultural production at risk, which could create food shortages.

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