North Korean leader Kim Jong Un faces bigger challenges than his relationship with the United States: The country’s food supply is critical.
On Tuesday, Kim Jong Un opened a political meeting, admitting the dire situation his country faces. According to the state-run newswire, KCNA, Kim said North Korea’s food supply was strained and “getting tense.”
But there is no viable path to recovery at this time.
The nation’s agriculture sector has struggled to recover from storm damage incurred in 2020. Furthermore, replacing domestic food supplies through imports can be difficult as borders remain mostly closed due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Prices of some staple goods in the capital, Pyongyang, are skyrocketing.
Experts said that prices for rice and fuel have remained relatively stable, but the costs of some imported products such as soybean oil, sugar, and flour have risen significantly. Prices of locally-produced commodities have also increased dramatically in recent months.
Pyongyang residents revealed that non-basic items, such as a packet of coffee, can cost more than $100.
While Kim did not disclose the shortage’s scale, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated that North Korea is short of approximately 860,000 tons of food, around two months of nationwide supplies. In April, the North Korean leader urged people to undertake another “arduous march” due to the country’s dire situation.
The term was used to refer to the devastating 1990s famine in North Korea that killed thousands of people.
Amid the decaying situation, relations with Washington and negotiations on lifting sanctions appear to be a distant concern for Kim, who vowed to improve the lives of most North Koreans when he took power in 2011. The North Korean leader, considered a dictator, did not mention talks with the American government until Thursday, the third day of this week’s political meeting.
State media reported that Kim analyzed US President Joe Biden’s North Korean policy and now considers that his government needs to “get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation.”
The Biden administration has reaffirmed that North Korea, its nuclear program, and allegations of large-scale human rights abuses represent an important part of its foreign policy agenda. However, Kim’s statement may open the door to talks with Washington after a failed attempt to reach out to Pyongyang a few months ago.