North Koreans picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals. Shipyard workers developed a technique by which they scraped the bottoms of the cargo holds where food had been stored, then spread the foul-smelling gunk on the roof to dry so that they could collect from it tiny grains of uncooked rice and other edibles.It seems clear to me that North Korea's economic system caused the food shortage. Yes, they had floods, but so does everyone else. And they could not pay for more imports because their country could not produce anything of value (the people were exhausted/starving).
We get to the heart of the matter in the following paragraph:
The state confiscates the entire harvest and then gives a portion back to the farmers. As harvests withered in the early nineteen-nineties, the farmers, going hungry, began hoarding some of the crops. . .The farmers also neglected the collective fields for private "kitchen gardens," next to their houses, or small plots that they carved out of the side of uncultivated mountain slopes. Driving through the North Korean countryside, you could clearly see the contrast between the private gardens, bursting with vegetables-beanpoles soaring skyward, vines drooping with pumpkins-next to the collective fields with haphazard rows of stunted corn that had been planted by so-called "volunteers."When a government confiscates all the fruits of labor, the incentive to produce more disappears. This seems like such a simple lesson but governments all over the world, not just in North Korea, forget or ignore this.
The rest of the article is incredibly sad but worth reading to be reminded of the virtues of our market system.