North Korea is telling its already hungry citizens to consume less food for the next three years or so until at least 2025, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
This was after the border between China and North Korea was closed in early 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and will remain so for a few more years, which effectively shuts down food imports into the hermit nation.
Pyongyang told its citizens to wait out this next three years by planting food at home, RFA reported, as there is only a slim chance of the border reopening before 2025.
Dire food situation
The sudden shutting of the border had already put 25 million North Koreans in a dire situation, with prices of food skyrocketing amidst news that people were already dying of starvation, RFA reported.
North Korea justified the closure of the border as its successful defence against Covid-19.
Unnamed sources in North Korea told RFA they were told by the state that other countries around the world are having it worse, with massive infection numbers and death tolls.
But locals are not entirely buying it and have blamed the North Korean government.
One source said: “They said at the meeting that the coronavirus situation in other countries was so bad. The number of coronavirus-related deaths is rapidly increasing every day around the world.”
“But the residents do not trust the authorities’ explanation, saying, ‘No matter how difficult the situation is, where on Earth could there be people going through more difficulty than we are?’”
Food shortage situation
The United Nations and United States sanctions restrict the trade of certain goods that could generate cash and resources into Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes, but the border closure restricts all trade.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation projected that North Korea will be short 860,000 tonnes of food in 2021, which is roughly two months of consumption.
But imports from China into North Korea have not been completely shut out as crossings between the two countries that share vast land borders have continued.
Trade between China and North Korea has begun to pick back up in recent months, but at a fraction of pre-Covid-19 levels, Reuters reported.
Exports from China to North Korea rose to US$22.5 million in August, which was an increase from prior months, but significantly behind the US$219 million in August 2019.
Mantra of self-reliance
The North Korean government has been pushing its mantra of self-reliance since the beginning of 2021.
One of leader Kim Jong Un’s key messages in the eighth congress of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party in January was for the country to decrease dependence on imports and solve its own problems.
In April, authorities told them to prepare for an economic situation worse than the Arduous March, the Korean name for the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions, as many as 10 per cent of the country by some estimates.
About Radio Free Asia
RFA's mandate is to deliver uncensored, domestic news out of Asian countries that have "poor media environments".
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photo via official North Korean state media