Research Paper on North Korea’s Challenges to Food Security

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Abstract: How the climate change such as droughts and floods impacted North Korea, especially with its food crops will be discussed. Ways and studies to increase plant growth which could eventually diminish or even eliminate famine within North Korea will also be mentioned in the hope of saving millions of North Koreans.

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“Research Paper on North Korea’s Challenges to Food Security”

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A devastating disaster with the name famine still resides upon North Korea and its most vulnerable citizens. This famine is caused by multiple factors starting from the Korean war during the 1950s all the way to severe droughts that occurred in 2017. North Korea’s terrain is mostly consisted of mountains (about 85%) making it not so much suitable for crop harvesting. So, with the little amount of land that is suitable for farming, if droughts and floods cause a problem with the food/crop yield, it becomes a matter of life or death to the people of North Korea. On top of that fact, a chain reaction started from the deforestation and degradation of North Korea’s forest during the 1950s which have led to a huge plummet in crop yield. Due to the Korean war, North Korea’s forests were burnt down and in despair, people used wood for fuel (cooking and heating), food, and selling as timber to China. Forest cover was reduced from 8.2 million to 7.6 million hectares during this time period [1]. This first step amplified the flood and drought effects that came during the 1990s. With no trees to hold the water that was heavily poured on the soil, this water flooded most of the crops that were grown which triggered the first famine [2]. With the loose soil, when the drought came water was quickly lost causing all the crops to dry out and die resulting in a famine that still plagues North Korea.

The drought that caused the great famine in North Korea during 1995-1998 is said to have wiped out about 10 percent of North Korea’s population estimating to be about 2~3 million people [3]. Due to the scarce source of food, inevitable/unwanted actions of cannibalism are said to have happened during these harsh times [4]. Although not as severe as the 1990s the famine is an ongoing problem for North Korea and recently during the 2017 main season, drought has hit again. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States gave a special alert/early warning system on food and agriculture on the Prolonged dry weather that threatened the 2017 main season food crop production of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In this report, it is stated that below average of rainfall, reduced water supplies for irrigation, and high temperature seems to show a result in a drastically low vegetation growth and crop yield potential of staple crops such as rice, maize, potatoes, and soybeans [5]. This drought led to a 30 percent decrease in early-season crop production compared to last year’s early-season crop production and if this cycle of drought and floods that impact the crop yield is not solved, this disaster inflicted on North Koreans citizens will not vanquish [6].

Although the main causes that are impacting the food security of North Korea are droughts and floods, policy and politics also have a huge part in this cycle of food security and famine. It was reported that in 2016 about 4.3 percent of the North Korean budget was spent on agriculture and 15.9 percent on military spending (however over spending about 30 percent of the total North Korean budget is expected according to the Unification Ministry of South Korea) [7,8]. Droughts and floods will continuously hit North Korea and use more budgets on agriculture might help out largely in overcoming these problems and securing the food security so that the people won’t starve to death or have malnutrition. Due to the sanctions held internationally on North Korea and relying mostly on China’s food export due to the harsh conditions for crop yield, does not help with the self-sustainable growing of crops within North Korea [9]. North Korea has a collective farming policy which also impacts crop yield because the policy provides weak willpower for the farmers and the malnutrition makes the farmers have a weak body.


  1. Hudson, J. (2012, April 03). The Environment Is So Bad in North Korea, They’ll Even Let Americans Help. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from
  2. PRESS, C. T. (1999, November 21). North Korea Waking Up to Dangers of Deforestation. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from
  3. Crossette, B. (1999, August 20). Korean Famine Toll: More Than 2 Million. Retrieved March 15, 2018, from
  4. Fisher, M. (2013, February 05). The Cannibals of North Korea. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from
  5. Zappacosta, M. (2017, July 20).Prolonged dry weather threatens the 2017 main season food crop production(Rep. No. 340). Retrieved March 11, 2018, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States website: (NTIS No. 340)
  6. Hunt, T. (2017, July 23). North Korean drought leaves Kim’s kingdom crippled amid deadly food crisis, UN warns. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from
  7. FRANK, R. (2016, April 8). The 2016 North Korean Budget Report: 12 Observations. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from
  8. Military spending. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2018, from
  9. Huang, K. (2017, August 22). Starving North Korea is rapidly buying up food from China. Retrieved March 14, 2018, from
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Research paper on North Korea's challenges to food security. (2019, Jul 17). Retrieved August 8, 2022 , from

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