The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is likely to record its best harvest for six years, but with domestic food production still well below consumption requirements, the country will again need substantial external assistance in 2002, two United Nations agencies said today.

Favourable weather during the main growing season, bigger budgetary allocations for agriculture, greater use of farm machinery and increased supplies of donated fertiliser should enable DPRK to produce some 3.54 million tonnes of cereals in 2001/02 (including rice in milled terms and potatoes in cereal equivalent (2001/02), up 38 percent on the previous year’s harvest and its highest output since 1995/96, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Relatively good and well-distributed rainfall from mid-June to end-August benefited the main 2001 crops, overcoming the adverse effects of a prolonged spring drought, experts from the Rome-based agencies who undertook an assessment mission to the country from 25 September to 5 October concluded.

Rice production was forecast to reach 1.34 million tonnes (milled basis) in 2001, 22 percent more than last year, and the maize harvest projected to rise by 42 percent to 1.48 million tonnes.

The overall 3.54 million tonne estimate for 2001/02 includes yet-to-be-planted winter/spring wheat, barley and potato crops that in recent years accounted for 10-15 per cent of the country’s annual output. “The production estimate may need to be revised once the harvest outcome of these crops is known,” the FAO/WFP report noted.

But it pointed out that in addition to perennial droughts and floods, critical shortages of fertiliser, agro-chemicals and farm machinery persist, and there is little scope for expanding the cultivable area beyond its present level of some two million hectares.

Notwithstanding the significant recovery this year, “domestic production will fall well below the minimum food needs and the country will again have to depend on substantial external food assistance next year as its capacity to import commercially remains highly constrained,” the report said.

Estimating total cereal utilization needs in 2001/02 at 5.01 million tonnes, it therefore projected a deficit of 1.47 million tonnes (down from 2.2 million tonnes in 2000/01). “With commercial imports anticipated at 100,000 tonnes, 1.37 million tonnes will need to be covered by food aid and concessional food imports.”

On the basis of vulnerability assessments the report recommended that about 610,000 tonnes of food aid, including 525,000 tonnes of cereals and 85,000 tonnes of other food items be mobilised for population groups deemed to be most at risk: small children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly – especially in urban areas. It said bilateral aid and concessional food imports should meet the balance.

“The uncovered deficit is large and must be viewed very seriously. It needs to be emphasised that unless the international community responds positively and substantially, millions of people of DPR Korea, including large number of children, old people, pregnant women and lactating mothers will face hunger over prolonged periods with severe consequences for their health and welfare,” the joint report says.

“The crucial food aid safety net needs to be maintained until sustainable food security is achieved through the recovery of the economy and the rehabilitation of the agriculture sector, for which substantial international assistance will be needed,” the report concluded.


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