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Seoul, Feb 27 – North Korea has convened a key party meeting to discuss agricultural issues, with its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance, Pyongyang’s state media said on Monday, as the country is grappling with severe food shortages.
Kim presided over the seventh enlarged plenary meeting of the eighth Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on Sunday to discuss issues of agricultural development, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The rare party meeting came as the country’s food situation appears to have deteriorated amid deepening economic hardships caused by border lockdowns to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and global sanctions on its nuclear and missile programs, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The North’s media said the meeting will review major achievements from last year, the first year of the implementation of the country’s programs on a rural revolution for the new era.
The session will also decide on “the immediate important tasks and the urgent tasks arising at the present stage of the national economic development and the practical ways for implementing them”, the KCNA said in its report.
Observers said the North’s rare move to convene a party plenary meeting for the second time in about two months points to the urgency to deal with the country’s food crisis.
North Korea picked raising grain production as the No. 1 task among 12 major economic priorities for this year during its key party meeting late last year.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry earlier said the North’s food crisis appears to be worsening, with more deaths from starvation being reported recently in “some regions”.
The Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said a fall in crop production and disrupted food distribution are apparently attributable to the North’s food shortages.
The North’s crop output is estimated to have fallen 3.8 per cent on-year to 4.51 million tonnes last year, according to a report by the South’s Rural Development Administration.
North Korea’s crackdown on grain transactions at marketplaces also appears to have disrupted food distribution, observers said.
The policy is designed to restrict grain trades at state-run facilities, prompting farmers and merchants to refrain from releasing reserved grains due to fears of losses.
North Korea underwent a massive famine and related deaths during the period of the Arduous March in the 1990s.
Seoul’s ministry said the current food situation seems to be “grave” although it does not appear to be similar to what it was during the Arduous March.