SEOUL, Feb 27 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off a meeting of ruling party officials to discuss improving the country's economy and agricultural sector, state media reported on Monday, as fears of food shortages and a humanitarian crisis grow.

International experts say food insecurity has worsened in the isolated nation amid sanctions and COVID-19 lockdowns.

Kim oversaw the seventh enlarged plenary meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on Sunday as it reviewed rural development projects, state news agency KCNA reported.

On its first day the gathering approved agenda items, KCNA reported, while providing few details. The meeting is ongoing, the report added.

In announcing the meeting in February, KCNA said it was "a very important and urgent task to establish the correct strategy for the development of agriculture."

The North Korean food situation appears to have deteriorated, South Korea said this month, with officials in Seoul pointing to the meeting as a de facto acknowledgement of serious shortages.

Last month the U.S.-based 38 North programme, which monitors North Korea, said in a report that "food availability has likely fallen below the bare minimum with regard to human needs," with food insecurity at its worst since the famines of the 1990s.

North Korea is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, and in recent years its limited border trade was virtually choked off by self-imposed lockdowns aimed at preventing COVID-19.