The UN says prolonged dry weather - the worst in 15 years - is leading to severe food shortages in North Korea. The isolated communist state, which partly relies on food aid, will likely need increased imports this year.
A debate about food aid to North Korea continues as the country finds itself increasingly isolated over its weapons program
North Korea's production of staple crops for 2017 - including rice, maize, potatoes and soybean - has been severely damaged by extended drought conditions, the United Nations' food security agency warned on Thursday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) blamed rainfall between April and June well below the long-term average for slowing crop-sowing efforts, and warned that children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable to hunger.
Harvest shortfall expected
Production of this year's early season crops plunged by over 30 percent from the previous year's level of 450,000 tons to 310,000 tons, the FAO estimated.
The latest threat to food security comes amid worsening tensions between North Korea and its neighbors over Pyongyang's weapons development program.
The FAO called on donor nations to commit to increased food aid - which has fallen sharply in recent years - despite the prospect of further international sanctions and other measures against the secretive communist state.
"Immediate interventions are needed to support affected farmers and prevent undesirable coping strategies for the most vulnerable, such as reducing daily food intakes," said Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China and DPR Korea in a statement.
The FAO called for investment in education to help farmers increase their resilience to natural disasters.
Some relief was provided by the arrival of rains in early July, but researchers said they were too late to allow normal planting of the main season crops, which will be harvested in the fall.
The FAO's Martin said farmers now need irrigation equipment and other machinery urgently to prevent a major longer-term disruption to food supplies.
The UN body said additional food imports, commercial or through food aid, would be required during the next three months at the peak of the lean season, ensuring adequate food supply for the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly.
Better crops needed
The FAO also called for investment in drought-tolerant crops as well as education to help farmers and households increase their resilience to natural disasters.
North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and has relied on international food aid to feed many of its 25 million people.
The UN's World Food Program said in 2016 that two in every five people in North Korea were undernourished.
The latest FAO report was prepared with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.
mm/bk (Reuters, FAO)