While the world leaders are discussing in Rome the food crisis fast enveloping the world, North Korea is already in the grip of severe shortages, it is reported.
There are signs that some North Koreans may already be starving to death, experts and rights activists said Tuesday.
At the Rome summit UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged nations to seize an "historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture" as a way of tackling the food crisis.
He said that food production would have to rise by 50% by 2030 to meet demand.
The summit comes as food costs have reached a 30-year high in real terms, causing riots in several countries.
The host of the conference - the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - has warned the industrialised countries that unless they increase yields, eliminate barriers and move food to where it is needed most, a global catastrophe could result.
The FAO is calling for $1.7bn of emergency funding to tackle the shortage in production.
The recent crisis is believed to have pushed 100 million people into hunger worldwide.
Reports say that food rations across much of North Korea have been slashed, and the country's 1.1 million strong military reportedly halted major exercises so that soldiers could help raise crops.
After a three-year hiatus, the Bush administration is resuming food aid to North Korea, and a U.S. freighter carrying bulk grain is now sailing to make the first delivery from some 500,000 metric tons of food assistance that Washington in May promised the Kim Jong Il regime over the next year.
But experts said the bulk of U.S. food aid will arrive too late to help critical pre-harvest food shortages that intensify by the day and are likely to remain bad until August harvests.
"I would describe the situation as very serious. What we are seeing now are pre-famine indicators," said Marcus Noland, a North Korea specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington D.C. "Some hunger-related deaths are probably inevitable, if they haven't already started."
About 200,000 to 300,000 people might die of starvation in the next two months if there is no emergency aid from the international community, Good Friends, a Buddhist group in Seoul that works to help hungry North Koreans, said in a statement.
"This is a real acute situation. We are already getting reports that in some counties there are three or four people dying every single day," said Erica Kang, a spokeswoman for Good Friends.
North Korea suffered a severe famine in the late 1990s that took as many as two million victims in a nation of 23 million people.
Even North Korea's controlled press has acknowledged the precarious food situation now, blaming it on factors such as unseasonably cold spring weather. Prices for some grains shot up 25 percent last month, following a doubling of prices over the past year, Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program representative in North Korea, said in a telephone interview.
North Korea faces shortfalls of food for a variety of reasons, including dramatic flooding that ravaged the western coastal plains nine months ago, chronic fertilizer shortages, and steadily falling harvests, experts said.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization reported in late March that North Korea was likely to face a record shortfall of 1.66 million tons of grain this year. Kang said the worst hunger is in a coastal plain southwest of Pyongyang that is the nation's breadbasket region, source of 60 percent of the nation's grain. Floods wracked the area last year.
"Because farmers there are hungry, they are not working. They are staying at home, not doing any work," she said.
Following the mass famine in the late 1990s, North Korea received nearly a decade of sustained humanitarian aid from the South, totaling about 400,000 metric tons of grain a year, along with regular shipments of fertilizer.
South Korea is now offering Kim Jong Il's regime 50,000 metric tons of corn as food aid, Unification Minister Kim Ha Joong said, following a request by the United Nations to help avoid a humanitarian crisis in North Korea, news agency Bloomberg reports.
"We suggested to North Korean officials that we meet so that we can make an official offer of 50,000 tons of corn, but North Korea, for unknown reasons, has not replied,'' the minister told reporters in Seoul today.
But North Korean officials denied that there were widespread deaths related to famine when the ministry contacted them, Kim told reporters.
"They have told us that, yes, they are experiencing some difficulties, but not to the level of large scale famine- related deaths,'' the minister said. The government has been proposing a meeting with North Korean officials on the issue for the past three weeks, he added.