(UPDATE)DPRK food update

UPDATE 3: Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland chime in with “Famine in North Korea Redux”. 

UPDATE 2: IFES notes that Pyongyang is acknowledging the food shortage:

DPRK stressing unaided resolution to food crisis
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-10-24-1
10/24/2008

On October 22, the North Korean Workers’ Party newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, reported on the international food crisis, and stressed, ‘The only things we can trust in the face of today’s severe food crisis are the efforts and self sacrifice of our blood, sweat, and tears,’ emphasizing an autonomous resolution to the food problem.

According to the paper, Kim Jong Il stated, “Today in our country, the agricultural problem is a very important problem that must be decisively resolved in order to build a strong and prosperous socialist nation.”

In particular, the paper stressed the urgency of the food problems, reporting, “Rice and food are of the utmost importance, like a lifeline to us,” while admitting that fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, fuel, and other essential items were in short supply, but adding, “the basis of agricultural production is not physical conditions, but determination.” By emphasizing that ‘determination’ would be key to solving the problem was a way of indirectly admitting that the government did not have the means to provide the supplies necessary to increase agricultural output.

The tone of the article conveys the idea that as the food crisis worsens around the world, international food aid to North Korea is being reduced, causing the worsening of the food crisis in the DPRK. It would appear that the government is trying to calm the people’s discontent by blaming outside influences, while at the same time mobilizing the efforts of North Korean farm workers.

While all of North Korea’s media sources have been repeatedly reporting the current global food crisis, they have emphasized that most others do not have rice to give, and those that do are not giving it, so that the North’s domestic food shortages need to be resolved by the North Koreans themselves.

UPDATE: Jess adds some great statistics in the comments

The Daily NK reports on the Ministry of Unification’s claims about the DPRK’s food situation.

ORIGINAL POST:We are getting some mixed messages on the state of the DPRK’s agricultural production and access to food….

Last month, IFES and the Daily NK reported that the DPRK was expecting a decent harvest this fall since the country’s farmlands were spared the seasonal flooding of the previous years:

A source involved in China-North Korea trade at a company in Shenyang was quoted on the 30th as saying, “[North Korean] rice traders are expecting this year’s food production to be considerably improved compared to last year,” and, “This year, with no large natural disasters, rice paddies and crop fields are doing well, and crop production will probably be much greater than last year.”

In a related matter, one North Korean insider reported, “With the [North Korean] food situation, no one is doing as well as the wholesalers,” and, “As the fall harvest season has come, traders have come by farms in each province and reported that rice and corn harvests are very good.”

The source went on to say, “This year, farming was not difficult, so as autumn passes, the market price of rice looks likely to fall. The price of corn will fall even faster, hitting the 1000 won per kilogram level by mid October.” In fact, by the end of this year’s fall harvest, the price of food is expected to return to pre-shock levels. Currently, rice is selling for 2200 won and corn for 1300 won per kilogram in North Korean markets. (IFES)

This week, however, the UN World Food Program sent the opposite signal, highlighting the acute food shortages they are seeing:

The UN food agency said Thursday that millions of North Koreans face a food crisis, but a South Korean official said that Seoul has not decided whether to respond to a request for food aid to the communist country.

“Some areas of the northeastern provinces in the country … have become extremely vulnerable, facing a situation of a humanitarian emergency,” Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP’s country director for North Korea, said at a forum on North Korea.

Around 2.7 million people on North Korea’s west coast will also run out of food in October, the WFP said in a report released Tuesday.

The food shortages have forced many North Koreans to go to hills to collect wild food to complement their daily rations and reduce the number of meals per day to two, said de Margerie.

Asked if North Koreans face starvation, he said his agency hasn’t seen any evidence of starvation but said, “We have reached (a) very critical level and we shouldn’t wait for another starvation before ringing the alarm bells.”

The WFP also said the food shortages have especially affected urban households in areas with low industrial activity due to higher food prices, reductions in public food rations and lower employment.

Donor countries should back us up … Now is (the) time to act,” de Margerie said. (AP via New Zealand’s 3 News)

According to another report in the Times of London:

On Tuesday, WFP announced that some 2.7 million people on North Korea’s west coast will run out of food in October, and that, because of the worsening food situation, it was increasing from 1.9 million to 6.5 million the population which it seeks to help with food aid.

“Some areas of the north-eastern provinces in the country have become extremely vulnerable, facing a situation of a humanitarian emergency,” the organisation’s programme director for North Korea said. “We have reached a very critical level and we shouldn’t wait for another starvation before ringing the alarm bells.”

Additionally, UN’s point man on North Korean human rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn, has gone so far as to claim North Korea is clamping down on mobile phones and long distance telephone calls to prevent the spread of news about a worsening food crisis (Times of London). 

The South Korean Ministry of Unification, however, is publicly disputing the UNWFP’s numbers:

A South Korean official has disputed the U.N.’s assessment that millions of North Koreans are at risk of food shortages, saying Friday that the impoverished communist country does not appear to face a “serious” food emergency.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said that North Korea’s harvest this year is not bad, citing South Korean civic officials who recently visited the country.

“We believe that the North’s food condition is not in a serious crisis situation,” Kim told reporters, adding that the weather has been good and there were no heavy rains like the ones that devastated the North last year.

His comments came a day after the U.N. food agency said millions of North Koreans face a food crisis and called on donor countries, including South Korea, to provide urgent food aid.

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2 Responses to “(UPDATE)DPRK food update”

  1. Jess W. says:

    For what it’s worth, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service has maintained its Sept. projection for DPRK rice (paddy, I presume) yield and production at 4.21 Mt/ht. and 1.60MMT this October. No data on coarse grain is available for Korea.

    According to the FAO (Prodstat) estimates, DPRK’s Rice yields and production in 2007 were 3.8MT/ht. and 2.17MMT, the lowest since 2002. Total grain production in 2007 was estimated as 4.24MMT, also the lowest level since 2002 (roughly 184kg/head, 505g/person/day, or ~1490kcal/person/day). This indicates that there is precious little domestic grain in reserves. If 60% of calories are derived from cereals as in 2001-2003 (FAO), and no grain is diverted towards livestock or alcohol (unlikely), then the total intake should be 2475kcal/person/day near to what it was in 1989-1991 (FAO). Should the FAS projections prove true, rice production will be highly insufficient relative to the year 2007, which was historically low in and of itself.

    If increased food aid is called for, I would like to remind advocates of foreign assistance of the case of fertilizers in Malawi. The provision of subsidized fertilizers there yielded far more grain at a lower cost than direct food aid. With fertilizer application and yields far lower in the North than in the South, it is possible for the North to feed itself more readily through fertilizers or energy aid than food aid. However, for those who see food aid as a rare lever to control a despotic regime, food has a greater ability of creating dependency than fuel virtue of its being directly consumed without stimulating industry or trade.

  2. […] The NKEconWatch site carries a lot of interesting reports on North Korea, including this one on conflicting reports of the food situation in North Korea. So is the DPRK going to have a bumper harvest this year or […]