Asia Crisis

Food-short N.Korea says farms hit by bad weather

SEOUL, May 28 (Reuters) - North Korea's farm sector will take a hit due to cold weather and low precipitation this planting season, its official media said on Wednesday, after experts had warned the destitute state could be heading toward famine.

"The current spring weather has a bad effect on agriculture in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)," its official KCNA news agency reported.

"The abnormal weather has seriously affected the growth of maize crops on a vast acreage of fields, cultivation of rice-seedlings and the striking of roots of rice-seedlings in the west coastal areas, the granary," KCNA reported.

Last month, the U.N. World Food Programme said North Korea faces a looming food and humanitarian crisis after a poor harvest that has caused food prices to skyrocket and supplies to dwindle.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said in late March it expects North Korea to have a shortfall of about 1.66 million tonnes in cereals for the year ending in October 2008, which would be the largest deficit in about seven years.

North Korea, with a population of about 23 million, lost about 1 million people in a famine in the mid to late 1990s brought about by a mismanaged farm sector and flooding.

Even before the North spoke about the problems this planting season, agricultural experts said the reclusive state may again be facing mass deaths through starvation because of the current shortfall.

North Korea, which even with a good harvest still falls about 1 million tonnes or 20 percent short of what it needs, relies heavily on aid from China, South Korea and U.N. aid agencies to fill the gap.

South Korea has yet to send help this year due to political wrangling with Pyongyang, and China, trying to stem a rise in commodity prices at home, appears unwilling to provide major assistance. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jerry Norton)