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Autumn harvest watched warily in food-poor N Korea

North Korea, October 20, 2011

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Jean H. Lee and Matthew Pennington

Associated Press
October, 2011

Scythe in hand, a woman slices through a bright green field of rice. Oxen plod down country roads pulling carts piled high with harvested stalks of grain.

This autumn, as farmers fan out into fields of corn, wheat, rice and cabbage, such evocative pastoral scenes — the stuff of centuries-old Dutch landscape paintings — also are a reminder of the challenges North Korea faces in feeding its people.

Primitive farming techniques, a lack of arable land in a rugged, mountainous country and the suspected diversion of food to military and ruling party elites have all contributed to widespread hunger in the country's poorest areas, aid groups say.

This year, summer floods, soaring global food prices and the continued reluctance of the U.S. and its allies to provide aid to a hostile and nuclear-armed country means millions of children and pregnant women are slowly starving, aid groups say. So this autumn harvest is being watched particularly closely, and already there are concerns that it won't be nearly enough to feed a nation that has struggled with food shortages for more than 15 years....

..."You may see a whole field of green rice plants swaying in the breeze — which we saw a lot of — but the rains knocked down a lot of the pollination needed at critical times," said Jim White of Mercy Corps. "The rice never properly matured."