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Food shortages and economic institutions in the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea

By Suk Lee


This thesis aims to understand the 1987-99 food crisis in the DPRK. We begin by establishing the fact that the country faced several previous food shortages, including the 1945-46 urban foods crisis, the 1954-55 rural food crisis and the 1970-73 food shortage, all of which triggered and motivated corresponding institutional changes in agriculture. And we find that in order to overcome repeated food shortages the country has developed several distinctive economic institutions such as administrative/quantitative production control in agriculture, state grain marketing, food rationing, central monopoly of agricultural trade and supplementary food supply institutions.\ud \ud On the basis of this finding, we proceed into the analysis of the food crisis. Specifically, three controversial issues are examined. First, did it escalate into famine? If it did, how severe was the famine? Second, what was the causation of the famine? How did it unfold and what features did it have? Third, did the food crisis change the DPRK agriculture?\ud \ud With respect to the first issue we estimate the number of excess deaths during the food crisis using official population figures. It shows that there existed a famine that claimed 688 thousand excess deaths in 1994-99. For the second issue we argue that the famine had several unique features. First it was ‘absolute food availability decline (FAD) famine’ in which no policies were feasible to prevent it. Second, it was urban famine where industrial population in the north-eastern part of the country suffered most. Third, it was ‘famine-in-slow motion’ that victims persistently weakened for a long period rather than perished in a short space of time, due to the mixed result of massive FAD and systematic national coping strategies. Concerning the final issue we show that it is not necessarily true that the food crisis genuinely changed the DPRK agriculture as generally conceived

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