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N.K. food shortages not catastrophic this year despite coronavirus impact: U.S. monitor

All News 16:46 May 29, 2020

By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food production is expected to be low this year just as in previous years, but the situation is unlikely to be "catastrophic," a U.S. expert said, challenging many forecasts that the coronavirus has further aggravated food insecurity in an economy already faltering under sanctions.

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute specializing in the North Korean economy, made the case in a report released by the U.S.-based think tank 38 North.

"Judging by current conditions, food production this year may well be low, but probably not catastrophically so, or really much out of the ordinary compared to the past few years," Silberstein said.

The expert claimed that South Korea's predictions on the North's food production are misleading.

Earlier, the unification ministry said the North's food situation is expected to worsen this year as last year's harvest level was lower than the three-year average.

The U.S. expert said, however, that the 4.64 million-ton harvest from last year, although lower than the three-year-average, is still an increase from the estimate of the previous year's harvest of 4.55 million tons.

He also refuted the World Food Program's predictions last year that warned against large-scale shortages in the North.

North Korea may also get food provisions through foreign aid, the expert said, pointing out that Russia donated 25,000 tons of wheat earlier this month and that China is in the process of providing substantial aid to the North. Such food provisions will mitigate the effects of the coronavirus.

The expert also noted, however, that food prices in the market were higher than usual over the past few months, reflecting instability in the market due to the border closure and the awareness of shortages of fertilizers and farming equipment among the general public.

Goods including fertilizer and seeds required for the planting season have "reportedly been stuck in containers waiting to cross into North Korea from China."

The North closed its border with China late in January in a precautionary move to prevent the flow of the virus, while toughing quarantine criteria on inbound goods and people.

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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