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Food Security in the DPRK Since the Great Famine of the Mid-1990s Open Access

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Since the Great Famine of the mid-1990s, the the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has experienced significant socioeconomic and political changes. Most importantly, the ways in which North Koreans produce, distribute, and consume food, which shed light on food security, has changed in a great deal. Scholars have sought to understand whether and how food security has improved and why the regime stayed in power despite predictions of its likely demise. The paper examines trends among indicators of food security – food availability and nutritional status in the DPRK – that show overall improvement, while acknowledging that the DPRK still suffers from food insecurity in absolute terms. This paper argues that three factors account for this improved food security: unexpected acceptance of international food assistance, marketization from below, and a series of government policies adjusting to marketization. Based on the analysis of the literature investigating the three factors and their effects, the paper claims that international food assistance was necessary for pulling the country out of the Famine, but food assistance alone did not explain improved food security in the longer term. The paper found that the combination of marketization and government policies was the primary contribution to improved food security. The paper deepens the understandings of policymakers on why the DPRK is not collapsing despite the ongoing food shortages. It also suggests a need for studies of food security to theorize the interaction between state policies and individual agency or coping behaviors.

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