North Korea's staple corn crop is expected to fall sharply this year and worsen an already serious food shortage, a news report said Tuesday, citing a survey conducted in the isolated country.
The head of the International Corn Foundation told Yonhap news agency he expects the crop to be less than 1.5 million tons, down from the annual average of 2.5 million tons.
The Seoul-based foundation works to develop highly productive seeds to improve yields in the communist state, where corn remains a staple along with rice.
"This year's crop was the worst of all the corn harvests I've seen while visiting North Korea over the past 12 years," Kim Soon-Kwon, a Seoul biologist who leads the foundation, told Yonhap.
Kim, who visited the North last week, attributed the projected poor crop to a lack of fertiliser and severe drought in July.
"The food shortage will become severe given that 70 per cent of the North Korean population relies on corn as staple food," he added.
South Korea last year did not deliver its usual annual provision of 300,000 tons of fertiliser as relations worsened between the two governments.
"Corn needs fertiliser more than any other grain," Kim was quoted as saying.
"The fact that the fertiliser had not been provided appropriately because of the limbo in inter-Korean relations is a major factor in the bad crop."
North Korea's fertiliser output is estimated at less than 500,000 tons a year, about a third of its needs, Yonhap said, citing Seoul's official data.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) said in a recent report the North would run short of almost 1.8 million tonnes of food this year, and a third of its women and young children are already malnourished.
The WFP said it had been forced to cut food aid there due partly to dwindling international assistance.
The agency said 1.3 million North Koreans were receiving food support in July, just 20 percent of the 6.2 million originally planned, and the WFP's current food stocks would run out in November.