SEOUL, May 9 (UPI) -- North Korea continues to struggle with a decline in food production, but that hasn't stopped Pyongyang from planning a lavish renovation of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
North Korea's food shortage – owing to an early drought in 2015 – led to a reduction in rations, but Randall Ireson, who coordinated the American Friends Service Committee agricultural program in North Korea between 1998 and 2007, said there has been "substantial resilience" among North Korean farmers.
In an analysis on 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, Ireson explained the drought that hit the North was later followed by a recovery in July and August.
Rainfall was actually lower in early 2014 than 2015, Ireson wrote.
Rice production, however, has not recovered. Using Food and Agriculture Organization statistics, Ireson said an underestimated 32,000 hectares of rice paddy had not been transplanted, but in response farmers planted corn and soybeans instead.
Both crops require much less water than rice, according to Ireson.
The decline in rice production poses challenges to the vast majority of North Koreans who live at a basic subsistence level.
The FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System officer in charge of East Asia, Cristina Coslet, has said Pyongyang reduced official rations to 370 grams daily per person, well below the U.N. recommended amount of 600 grams daily per person.
While livelihoods are at stake, the Kim Jong Un regime is prioritizing a less pressing task: the renovation of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun with gold leaf.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Monday the plan is to add a layer of gold leaf to the roof and decorate the building with crystal beads.
The structure serves as the mausoleum for the late Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-Pyongyang group, has been asked to raise $230,000 for the project, a source told the Asahi.