Kim Jong Un congratulated himself at the recent 9th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee, proclaiming that “2023 was a monumental turning point that will leave a lasting footprint on the nation’s glorious path to strength and global prestige.” In reality, however, North Korea has failed to address issues related to agriculture, animal husbandry, and other key tasks in providing for the basic needs of the people. In other words, the regime has been unable to guarantee its people’s right to food.
Generally speaking, “proximate causes” refer to causes that directly and specifically affect individuals, “underlying causes” are factors that affect groups such as families, and “fundamental causes” are related to the local community and the government. As these fundamental causes worsen or increase, a larger portion of the population will be negatively affected by malnutrition.
North Korea’s food crisis stems from an inadequate intake of the carbohydrates and proteins that are essential for human survival. Let’s take a look at North Korea’s meat and egg production in 2023. According to the “Strategy for National Economic Development (2016-2020)” report prepared by North Korea in 2014, the DPRK’s annual meat production peaked in the late 1970s with a record 287,000 tons of meat and 1.267 billion eggs. Comparing North Korea’s self-reported figures from 2014, the country produced only 71% as much meat and 50% as many eggs.
Considering that North Korea’s border closure policy will cut off virtually all imports of animal feed in 2023, we can project that meat production in 2023 would fall below 50% of the recorded peak production. This would amount to only 143,500 tons of meat and 633.5 million eggs. With a North Korean population of about 25 million, this translates to 5.74 kilograms of meat and 25.34 eggs per person per year.
More than 80% of North Koreans do not consume enough protein, and a growing percentage of people do not meet the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for protein based on their body weight. The typical adult EAR for daily protein intake (in grams) is calculated as the individual’s body weight in kilograms multiplied by 0.73. For example, an adult weighing 50 kilograms would need at least 36.5 grams (50 x 0.73) of protein per day.
Even at North Korea’s highest recorded production level, this would have amounted to only 32 grams of meat and 0.13 of an egg per person per day. General nutritional science estimates that chicken contains 16-18 grams of protein (per 100 grams of meat), beef 17-28 grams, pork 17-40 grams, and a single egg 6 grams of protein. We can then calculate the average North Korean’s daily protein intake during this peak year to be 6.4 grams of protein (assuming 20 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat), which is only 17.5% of the 36.5 grams daily Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). In contrast, the average North Korean would need about 182 grams of meat and one egg per day to meet 100% of their daily basic protein requirement. Even if the government attempted to meet only 50% of the population’s protein needs from animal sources, this would require 91.25 grams of meat per person per day, or 33.3 kilograms per year.
The North Korean government would need to produce 832,656 tons of meat each year to meet the basic survival needs of 25 million North Koreans. Even if North Korea could restore its meat industry to its previous high of 280,000 tons per year, the government would still need to import an additional 550,000 tons of meat.
North Korea’s agricultural production was one of the key issues on the agenda of the 7th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee in 2023. However, the policies put forward by the party committee generally amounted to advocating “self-rehabilitation” and “struggle to overcome adversity,” while maintaining the existing agricultural policy focused on demonstrating loyalty. Similarly, North Korea’s livestock industry was inadequate even at its peak, and production has only declined since then.
Now let’s look at the meat market. Due to an outbreak of African swine fever and border closures to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea’s pork production has plummeted, causing prices to rise by 50% compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2018, 1 kilogram of pork sold for KPW 8,000. The same kilogram of meat now sells for KPW 15,000 and is increasingly difficult to find. Fresh milk, the kind you might buy at the grocery store, is extremely hard to find in North Korea. While the country imports powdered milk from Russia, China, and Europe, North Korea’s pandemic border closures have led to shortages. Goats are raised in several regions throughout North Korea, but problems with processing and storing goat milk have prevented the government from bringing goat milk to market. At present, goat’s milk is generally consumed only by local residents who raise goats.
Looking at the facts and figures, it is clear that the loyalty-based policy of “self-rehabilitation” and “fighting through adversity” endorsed by the Central Committee will not be enough to pull North Korea out of its current crisis. The best strategy for getting North Korea out of this crisis is to end the party’s restrictions and interference in the meat sector.
Translated by Rose Adams. Edited by Robert Lauler.
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January 15, 2024 at 12:30PM
by DailyNK(North Korean Media)