North Korean agriculture will be more challenging this season because an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is tearing through the oxen that plow the fields in preparation for planting, Bloomberg reports.
The fields aren't tilled with John Deere tractors. Rather, they rely on the old-fashioned muscle and sinew of beasts of burden.
In excess of 10,000 oxen have been infected with the scourge that has claimed thousands as leader Kim Jong Il struggles to negotiate through sanctions executed by the United Nations and the U.S.
"Oxen are so important in North Korea's agricultural industry that the government owns them all," Kwon Tae Jin, a vice president of the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul, told Bloomberg. "During the rice planting season you can see more oxen than tractors in the country."
Set for May, planting would rely on fewer animals to perform the work, said Kwon, whose specialty is the agriculture industry.
Even more difficult times lay ahead for a nation with an already embattled constituency, according to another analyst.
"It takes only a small cut in food supply to trigger a huge shock to North Koreans, who are already barely surviving in normal times," Cho Bong Hyun, a research fellow at the IBK Research Institute in Seoul, told the news service.