Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

DPRK’s 2015 drought (UPDATED)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Lake-Yonphung-2014-4-7

Lake-Yonphung-2014-9-12

Pictured above in Google Earth: (Top) Lake Yongphung 2014-4-7 (Bottom) Lake Yongphung 2014-9-12

UPDATE 23 (2015-7-15): Writing in 38 North, Randall Ireson asks if the drought is over…

After a month of concern, DPRK farmers have received substantial rains in the last few days, which will at the very least break the current drought. Except for Sinuiju on the Chinese border, weather stations in the western farming region have reported between 3.5 and 7.5 inches of rain between July 10 and 14, with similar amounts falling in Kangwon province.

This is very good news, and will provide adequate moisture for the main crops for the immediate future. The next week is expected to be dry, but another smaller weather system is expected over the weekend. If rainfall for the remainder of the year is at or near normal amounts, adverse effects of the recent dry months will be limited. But July rainfall is still less than half of normal, and crops will need substantial rain into August to insure normal development.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 22 (2015-7-10): The South Korean Ministry of Unification reports that the drought has eased. According to Yonhap:

The Unification Ministry said Friday that a severe drought that hit North Korea appears to have considerably eased since June as rainfall has almost reached last year’s level in many areas.

North Korea has been grappling with what it called the worst drought in 100 years, sparking concerns about food shortages. South Korea earlier predicted that the North’s crop production could fall by as much as 20 percent if the lack of rain continues into early July.

The ministry said the dry spell seems to have eased in North Korea though several areas in the northeast and midwest provinces are still suffering from the drought.

“North Korea had suffered from severe drought across the nation until May. But it seemed that since July, the situation has considerably eased,” Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, said in a press briefing.

“But some provinces such as Hwanghae and Hamgyeong provinces are still grappling with prolonged drought, which warrants a close watch,” he added.

The ministry said that the average precipitation in May reached 54.5 percent of that recorded a year earlier. But in June, the rainfall increased to hit almost 90 percent of the level recorded in the same period last year.

Seoul earlier said that it is willing to provide support for North Korea in coping with the drought if the country makes a formal request. There has been no request from Pyongyang.

“Currently, the South government is not considering providing food aid to the North,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named.

UPDATE 21 (2015-7-10): VOA reports that food rations have been cut:

Drought-hit North Korea has reduced food distribution, an official of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Thursday.

Cristina Coslet, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System officer in charge of Far East Asia, told VOA the North Korean government informed the agency that the country’s food ration for July was 310 grams per person per day, a 25 percent decrease from the previous month. Between January and June 2015, the average food ration was 410 grams per person per day.

Coslet said a severe drought is affecting the country’s crop production.

“We assume that this is mainly because early planted crops – wheat, barley, potato – decreased considerably,” said Coslet in a phone interview with VOA.

Coslet expected this year’s production of potatoes and winter wheat to drop by more than 20 percent from the previous year.

The FAO official said the early season harvest is relatively small, but it is an important food source for North Koreans.

“Spring crops are vital for food security, being an important food source for the lean season, which stretches from May to September,” said Coslet.

Coslet added, however, that it is still too early to estimate the final harvest, as rainfall in the coming weeks is crucial.

Despite the dismal forecast, the communist country is not known to have sought food assistance from U.N. agencies or Western countries.

UPDATE 20 (2015-7-9): Stephan Haggard offers analysis here.

UPDATE 19 (2015-7-9): UNICEF is worried about the impact of drought. According to the AFP:

A serious drought in North Korea requires urgent action to prevent the deaths of children already weakened by widespread malnutrition, the U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, warned Thursday.

“The situation is urgent. But if we act now — by providing urgently needed expertise and pre-positioning supplies — we can save lives,” said UNICEF East Asia Regional Director Daniel Toole.

“If we delay until we are certain of crop failures, it may well be too late to save the most vulnerable children,” Toole said in a statement.

North Korea is currently suffering what its official media described last month as the “worst drought in 100 years.” It has severely impacted main rice-growing areas.

According to the U.N. World Food Program, early-harvest crops, mainly wheat and barley, have already been affected.

UNICEF said its personnel had recently met with local health officials in affected provinces who confirmed reports of significant increases in diarrhoea among children.

“Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children’s lives at risk,” Toole said.

Concern about the impact of the drought is heightened by the existing poor nutritional status of many children in North Korea.

A 2012 study showed one-quarter of all North Korean children had symptoms of chronic malnutrition — a condition usually caused by a combination of unsafe water and poor sanitation, low food intake, and inadequate access to health services.

Toole said responding to the current drought crisis was difficult given North Korea’s isolation and the lack of funding for children-focused programs in the country.

But UNICEF has released pre-positioned emergency supplies to help those in the worst-affected provinces, including water purification tablets, water storage containers and health supplies for children with acute malnutrition.

UPDATE 18 (2015-7-9): A visitor to North Korea has sent this third drought poster. This poster was never published in Rodong Sinmun or KCNA. I have worked to translate it as best as possible, but still not quite there:

z2015-Drought-poster-3z

물절약형농법=An Agricultural Methods to Save Water
밍른봉 얕은갈이=Shallow tillage in early spring
영양알모재배 (?)=Cultivation methodology?
물원전학보관리 (?)=Management of water resources?
간단물대기=Simple irrigation
농업생산에서 일대 전환을!=A complete change/shift through agricultural production!

UPDATE 17 (2015-7-3): Associated Press covers drought in Unpha.

UPDATE 16 (2015-7-1): UN OCHA posts this document on the drought.

UPDATE 15 (2016-6-26): Associated Press covers drought in Hwangju County:

The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea’s ability to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.

Even in South Phyongan and North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea’s “breadbasket,” thousands of hectares (acres) of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said.

Reservoirs are drying up, creating irrigation problems for farmers, said Ri Sun Pom, chairman of the Rural Economy Committee of Hwangju County.

A group of female soldiers with yellow towels tied around their heads fanned out across a farm in Kohyon-ri, Hwangju county, North Hwanghae province, with buckets to help water the fields. An ox pulled a cart loaded with a barrel of water while fire engines and oil tankers were mobilized to help transport water.

The North Korean villages of Kohyon-ri and Ryongchon-ri were among several areas that journalists from The Associated Press visited in recent days.

Pak Tok Gwan, management board chairman of the Ryongchon Cooperative Farm in North Korea, said late last week that the farm could lose half its corn without early rain.

Mountainous North Korea, where less than 20 percent of the land is arable, has relied on outside food aid to help make up for a chronic shortage since natural disasters and outmoded agricultural practices led to a famine in the 1990s. North Korean farmers still face shortages of fuel, tractors, quality seeds and fertilizer, the U.N. said in a report earlier this month. Many irrigation systems rely on electrically powered pumping stations in a country with unstable power supplies, the report noted.

On Tuesday, North Korean state media reported record-high temperatures in Pyongyang and other cities in the southwest.

UPDATE 14 (2015-6-25): Yonhap offers a comprehensive story on the drought:

N. Korea claims worst drought in 100 years

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea has claimed again it is suffering from the worst drought in 100 years, while some foreign experts expressed skepticism, saying that the North may be exaggerating the situation in hopes of getting international aid.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on June 16 the worst drought in 100 years continues in the country, causing great damage to its agricultural fields.

The KCNA said rice-transplanting has been finished in more than 441,560 hectares of paddies across the country as of June 8, but at least 136,200 hectares of them are becoming parched.

The granaries in North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Pyongan and South Hamgyong provinces have been badly damaged, it claimed.

“Drought dries up rice-seedlings in nearly 80 percent and 58 percent of paddy fields in South and North Hwanghae provinces,” the North’s mouthpiece said, adding that the water level of reservoirs is at its lowest, while rivers and streams are getting dry.

North Korea experts expect the country’s grain production this year to drop substantially if the drought continues through July, which could deal a further blow to its chronic food shortage problem.

A severe drought may reduce North Korea’s rice harvest by 12 percent this year from a year earlier, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. showed on June 20, warning of the worsening food shortage in the impoverished country.

The latest FAO report put North Korea’s rice production at an estimated 2.3 million tons for this year, compared with the country’s rice harvest of 2.6 million tons a year earlier.

The estimated production may be less than the average amount of rice produced annually over the past five years, it added.

About one-fourth of North Korea’s total 544,000 hectares of rice paddies are being affected by the drought, the report also noted.

The drought may also eat into the country’s production of double crop products, like potatoes, wheat and barley, according to the report, which put the estimated amount at 277,000 tons this year.

North Korea’s North Hwanghae Province, which accounts for a majority of crop production, is sustaining severe damage from the drought, the report said.

North Korea is also reported to be suffering from severe electricity shortages as power generation in hydro power plants, which account for more than 60 percent of the North’s electricity generation, has been hit hard by the drought.

Reuters reported on May 30 that many hydro power plants in North Korea have suspended operation, reducing the nation’s power generation by half.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, North Korea’s electricity generation stood at 19 billion kilowatts in 2012, less than 5 percent of South Korea’s electricity generation in the same year.

There are also reports that North Korea’s claim of the “worst drought in 100 years” was exaggerated.

The drought now gripping North Korea is not yet a “catastrophe,” a U.S. agricultural expert said on June 18, suggesting that the socialist country may be exaggerating the situation.

The report came days after the South’s unification ministry forecast that the North’s grain production will likely drop by up to 20 percent this year from 2014 if a shortage of rainfall continues until early July.

“We need to be a bit cautious before anticipating a new disaster,” said Randall Ireson in an article carried by the website 38 North, citing previous examples in which the North warned of a disaster, but the situation later improved.

“Early last year, the DPRK government also warned about a drought crisis, but later rains allowed a recovery — while rice production fell about 10 percent from 2013, maize production hit a new high,” he said.

In 2012, the North also claimed another “worst drought in a century,” but ultimately a harvest of 4.92 million tons of grain equivalent, which is consistent with the surrounding years, ensued, the expert said.

“The KCNA article claims that no rain has fallen in South and North Hwanghae provinces. That is hyperbole,” he said, adding that precipitation data show a total of 181 millimeters at Haeju and 102 mm at Sariwon since March.

“While substantially below the historical average (330 mm for Haeju, unavailable at Sariwon), it is hardly ‘no rain,'” he said.

Rain has also fallen in the last few days in what could be the beginning of an annual monsoon season, he said.

“So while one has a right to be concerned, it’s not yet a catastrophe. If the rains of the last few days presage the arrival of the monsoon, then all may turn out fine. If there’s no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry,” he said.

The U.S. State Department also has ruled out a plan to give aid to North Korea in relation with the current drought.

The Voice of America reported on June 3, quoting a department spokesman, that the department has no plan to offer aid to North Korea at present and North Korea has not asked the U.S. for help yet.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it is ready to support North Korea, Seoul’s pointman on inter-Korean affairs has said.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said on June 24 that Seoul is willing to offer the necessary support to the North if the North’s situation deteriorates, but added that the South will wait for Pyongyang’s request.

“At a time when the two Koreas are coping with drought, I think that this situation can be a chance to promote cooperation,” Hong said in a meeting with a group of reporters. “If North Korea faces tougher situations, South Korea is willing to provide the necessary support to North Korea.”

He did not elaborate on the kinds of support.

Seoul, however, does not have any immediate plans to make such a proposal to the North pre-emptively, he said, hinting that Seoul needs Pyongyang’s request for help.

“The South is carefully reviewing how to approach this matter,” he added.

In 2014, the North reported its lowest amount of rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Meanwhile, Hong expressed regret over the North’s boycott of the upcoming Summer Universiade in South Korea due to political reasons, saying that the sports competition could be a good chance for dialogue.

The North issued a rare statement on June 15 that it is ready to hold dialogue with Seoul if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South’s joint military drills with the United States. North Korea, however, took tough measures less than 10 days after the dialogue proposal, including the boycott of the Universiade and sentencing two South Koreans it has detained to lifetime compulsory labor, accusing them of spying for South Korea’s intelligence agency.

UPDATE 13 (2015-6-23): Associated Press publishes images of drought in Nampho.

UPDATE 12 (2015-6-22): Anna Fifield reports in the Washington Post that the chances of a famine returning are slim.

UPDATE 11 (2015-6-22): Marcus Noland offers analysis here.

UPDATE 10 (2015-6-20): Drought may cut N. Korea’s 2015 rice harvest by 12 pct: FAO. According to Yonhap:

A severe drought may reduce North Korea’s rice harvest by 12 percent this year from a year earlier, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. showed Saturday, warning of the worsening food shortage in the communist country.

The recent FAO report put North Korea’s rice production at an estimated 2.3 million tons for this year, compared with the country’s rice harvest of 2.6 million tons a year earlier.

The estimated production may be less than the average amount of rice produced annually over the past five years, it added.

About one-fourth of North Korea’s total 544,000 hectares of rice paddies are being affected by the drought, the report also noted.

The drought may also eat into the country’s production of double crop products, like potato, wheat and barley, according to the report, which put the estimated amount to 277,000 tons this year.

North Korea’s North Hwanghae province, which accounts for a majority of crop production, is sustaining severe damage from the drought, the report said.

UPDATE 9 (2015-6-19): The Daily NK is reporting in an article price information that is different than its exchange rate/rice price table. Here is a small table that shows the difference:

DailyNK-price-discrepancy-2015-6-19

The exchange rate and rice price differences are not all that significant, and could be related to variations in when they were collected. However, the article text implies that potatoes are the only crop seeing more significant price increases at the moment (and only in Hyesan):

 

According to an inside source, the cost of potatoes in Yangkang Province’s Hyesan Agricultural Market is approximately 2,000 KPW per kg. This represents a massive 1,300 KPW rise when compared to last year’s prices. It’s quite rare to see the cost of potatoes shoot up to the 2,000 KPW mark. This has sent residents into a minor panic. For the same price, it would have been possible to buy about three times as many potatoes this same time last year. This is putting a strain on many residents’ ability to put together a nutritious meal. At the Hyesan jangmadang, corn is selling for 1,800 KPW per kg. Next to that figure, it’s plain to see that the relative cost of potatoes is exorbitantly high. Residents can protest, but at the end of the day, they don’t have any better options.

The article lists other prices, but does not explain any price changes, so I do not know if they have significnatly increased:

Moving along, the cost of 1 kg of corn was 2,400 KPW in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and 2,600 KPW in Hyesan. One kg of pork was selling at 14,000 KPW in Pyongyang, 14,300 KPW in Sinuiju, and 15,000 KPW in Hyesan. Gasoline was trading at 9,450 KPW per kg in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and at 8,450 KPW per kg in Hyesan. Finally, 1 kg of diesel fuel was selling at 5,100 KPW in Pyongyang and 5,200 KPW in Sinuiju and Hyesan. This has been a weekly rundown on North Korea’s latest market prices.

And if you noticed in the above two quotes, the article gives two prices for the price of corn in Hyesan (1,800 and 2,600), so I am not sure what to make of that.

UPDATE 8 (2015-6-18): Marcus Noland offers analysis here and here.

UPDATE 7 (2015-6-18): China Says it is willing to help drought-hit North Korea (Reuters):

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the government was willing to help drought-stricken North Korea, after the isolated country said it was suffering its worst drought in a century.

“Our sympathy goes out to the People’s Republic of Korea that is suffering from extremely serious drought, and it is our hope that the government and people will overcome the disaster as soon as possible,” spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing, using North Korea’s official name.

“China is willing to provide the aid that is needed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he added, without providing details.

The US says it has no plans to assist the DPRK in the event of a drought. According to Yonhap:

The United States said Wednesday it has no plans to provide food aid to North Korea amid concern food shortages in the impoverished communist nation could significantly worsen due to what the country calls the worst drought in a century.

“I’ve seen the reports about the drought. I don’t have any specific information about the validity of the drought,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular briefing in response to a question about the North’s report.

Asked if the U.S. would consider providing food aid, Kirby said, “I’m not aware of any such plans. No.”

UPDATE 6 (2015-6-18): In 38 North, Randall Ireson reports we should take a care when assessing the impact of North Korea’s drought.

The KCNA article claims that no rain has fallen in South and North Hwanghae provinces. That is hyperbole. Precipitation data show a total of 181 mm at Haeju and 102 mm at Sariwon since March. While substantially below the historical average (330 mm for Haeju, unavailable at Sariwon), it is hardly “no rain.” In both locations there were substantial rains in the last several days (61 mm in Haeju, 48 mm in Sariwon). Other locations show a similar pattern of sharply lower rainfall than average, but a recent uptick: Pyongyang has had 143 mm since March, 27 mm in the last week, compared to a March-June average of 230 mm. Anju reported 202 mm since March, 78 mm last week, against a March-June average of 320 mm.[7] So while one has a right to be concerned, it’s not yet a catastrophe. If the rains of the last few days presage the arrival of the monsoon, then all may turn out fine. If there’s no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry.

Read the full report here.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-18): The Daily NK reports that the price of rice is basically constant in Pyongyang and Sinuiju this year, though the price shows significant variation in Hyesan:

 Daily-NK-2015-food-prices

UPDATE 4 (2015-6-16): KCNA reports drought this year:

The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage to its agricultural field.

According to data available, rice-transplanting has been finished in over 441 560 hectares of paddy fields across the country as of June 8, but at least 136 200 hectares of them are parching up.

The granaries including North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Phyongan and South Hamgyong provinces have been badly damaged.

Drought dries up rice-seedlings in nearly 80 percent and 58 percent of paddy fields in South and North Hwanghae provinces.

According to the State Hydro-meteorological Administration, no rainfall has been witnessed in North and South Hwanghae provinces.

Water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams getting dry.

Other crops are planted in paddy fields of drought-stricken areas as part of the campaign to reduce damage.

UPDATE 3 (2015-6-11): WFP on standby for possible N. Korea drought. According to Yonhap:

The United Nations food agency is closely monitoring the weather conditions in North Korea in order to send emergency assistance there in case of a protracted dry spell, the agency’s regional director in Asia said Wednesday.

South Korea said a day earlier that food production in North Korea may fall by 20 percent on-year if the current drought continues until early July.

“The concern is going to grow week by week until we get closer to the traditional July harvest,” David Kaatrud of the World Food Program (WFP) told Yonhap News Agency in an interview. “So our role is to not only be vigilant … but also stand ready should assistance be required to change our operation toward relief related to any type of food insecurity.”

Last month, North Korea received less than 60 percent of the average monthly rainfall recorded between 1981 and 2010. Precipitation reached a 15-year low last year, with the U.N. warning of severe food shortages should the dry weather there continue.

The WFP has mainly focused on providing nutrition to the most vulnerable, or about 2.4 million children and women, for the past two years.

It recently extended the two-year project, slated to end this month, through the end of 2015.

“We need enough time to refine the intervention we’re doing now,” he said. “The broad contours of what we will be doing next would be very similar to what you see now — it will continue to be focused on a targeted nutrition intervention because that’s what’s required there.”

He reiterated that the WFP was ready to shift its targeted intervention to a more widespread one in case of a severe food crisis.

“But we don’t have any indications (of that) yet,” he said.

The North has relied on international assistance since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

About 70 percent of its people lack food and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are malnourished, according to U.N. data.

The WFP is the U.N.’s largest humanitarian aid arm, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world’s food assistance.

South Korea’s contributions to WFP operations globally reached US$31 million last year.

The two sides held their first annual consultations Wednesday, cementing their commitment for the Zero Hunger Challenge pioneered by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The challenge aims to ensure that every person has a right to adequate food.

UPDATE 2 (2015-6-9): N. Korea’s crop production may fall 20% in drought. According to Yonhap:

North Korea is likely to see its food production fall by up to 20 percent this year from 2014 if a shortage of rainfall continues until early July, a Unification Ministry official said Tuesday.

In May, precipitation in North Korea reached 57 percent of the average rainfall recorded between 1981 and 2010, according to the official.

In 2014, the North reported its smallest rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year due to drought.

North Korea’s crop production could decline by 15 to 20 percent this year compared to last year if it continues to see a rainfall shortage until early July, the official said.

The North is expected to see its food production fall by only 5 to 10 percent if the lack of rainfall continues into early June. In that case, North Korea is believed to be focusing on producing maize as an alternative to rice.

“This year, the supply of fertilizer is not smooth, compared with last year,” said the official, asking not to be named.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Last year, the North suffered from a severe drought in the spring, but managed to produce crops at a level similar to that of 2013 due mainly to the use of preserved water.

The official said that the North’s agricultural reforms might have helped it maintain the food production last year, but this year’s situation may bode ill, given that fertilizer availability is worse.

In 2012, the North announced the so-called “6.28 measures” that centered on allowing farmers to keep 30 percent of their production quota plus any excess over the quota. Last year, it unveiled a new set of reforms that call for raising the farmers’ portion to 60 percent.

UPDATE 1 (2015-6-3): KCNA reports that two posters have been produced to instruct/motivate people to overcome hardships brought on by drought:

KCNA-2015-6-3-Drought-posters

According to Anna Fifield at the Washington Post, the posters say  “Everybody fight against the drought!” and “Let’s all fight powerfully against the drought!”.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-31): On 2015-5-11 I reported in Radio Free Asia that many of North Korea’s reservoirs have shown a fall in water levels from 2012 to 2014. This was more evidence of a drought that had struck the country in 2014, and that if it continued, it could affect food and electricity production.

On May 30, Reuters reports that the UN is warning of another drought:

A drought in North Korea could lead to huge food shortages this year, the top U.N. official in the country told Reuters in an interview.

Rainfall in 2014, the lowest in records going back 30 years, was 40-60 percent below 2013 levels, and reservoirs are very low, said Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. resident coordinator.

“We’re extremely concerned with the impact of drought which will affect the crop this year severely. And we might be faced with another major incident of food availability or even hunger,” said Isaczai. “It is going to create a huge deficit between the needs and what is available.”

If El Nino weather conditions bring more drought this year, the situation in 2016 could be even worse, he warned.

“This is currently the rice-planting season. Normally they submerge the land almost a week or two in advance. But this year, I’ve seen it myself – they’re doing it in the dry, actually planting rice. So what we’re hearing right now is that they’re switching to maize and corn because that requires less water.”

Some farmers, already struggling with a shortage of fuel and equipment, have resorted to using buckets to water seedlings, he said. The effect of North Korea’s lack of agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation systems was visible on the border, where “dry and harsh” North Korean land met green fields in China.

A famine in the 1990s killed as many as 1 million North Koreans but recently many international donors have been reluctant to help because of Pyongyang’s restrictions on humanitarian workers and international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

“Let’s not make aid political,” Isaczai said.

ELECTRICITY HIT

The United Nations provides nutritional supplements to schools and hospitals but does not have the funds to supply rice for North Korea’s 24.6 million population, 70 percent of whom are already classed as “food insecure”.

“How are they going to fill this gap? I think they have reached out to some countries – to India, to China, to Russia,” Isaczai said.

The lack of water has dried up rivers and streams and has also hit electricity supply, which was at its worst in winter when hydroelectric power was restricted to reserve water for the rice-planting season.

“What the government confirmed to me is that they’re operating at 50 percent of capacity in terms of power generation. A lot of it is now related to water,” the U.N. official added.

Blackouts in Pyongyang last anything from 8-9 hours to a whole 24 hours and many hospitals are unable to operate.

Isaczai said he thought the food situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have some reserves.

New farming rules – which allow smaller, family-sized teams to run farms – meant more efficiency and ownership, he said, with families allowed to keep livestock and farmers able to keep surplus crops.

“Also there are small markets emerging in rural areas, like kind of farmers’ markets where people can barter or trade or sell things.”

Some people were also selling food on the street, which might be a few eggs or apples, enabling families to supplement the food they get from the national ration system.

The reforms may not be fast or widespread, Isaczai said, and the impact may take three to five years to be felt.

The government also set a target last year of building 20,000 greenhouses, he said, which would make more vegetables available and diversify diets, but the country needs help to build them.

Read the full story here:
U.N. warns of coming hunger in North Korea
Reuters
Tom Miles
2015-5-30

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Individual innovation leaves collective farms in the dust

Monday, June 8th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Despite vowing to make this year one of ‘abundant harvests’ as North Korea marks its 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party foundation, the country is facing stumbling blocks in living up to that promise. Full mobilization calls of workers and soldiers for agricultural assistance have failed to draw out greater work capacity from purported ‘volunteers’, but sources report a very different picture when it comes to plots allocated to individuals.

“On collective farms, where all residents have been fully mobilized, rice planting, and sowing of corn and potatoes are in full swing,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on June 4th. “But those who have been mobilized are working half-halfheartedly, and there are no measures in place against threats of drought, so other than rice paddies, most crops are drying out.”

Sources in two other provinces of North Korea reported the same trends, but for their safety Daily NK may not release their locations.

She added that as those adhering to the state’s full-mobilization order are far from diligent about their work and “just trying to get by.” Young students are reportedly working from the wee hours to transport buckets of water to the rice paddies but the overall efforts are far from sufficient to overcome the dry spell wreaking havoc on the crops.

“Most ‘volunteers’ play games or sit in the shade, having a few drinks, when the farm managers are not around,” said the source. This behavior earns the ire of managers, who threaten to pull meal provisions for workers or refusing to accept volunteers altogether as a result.

However, this is all in stark contrast to individual plots, the source reported. “On these individual plots, people are using plastic covers and protecting their crops from drought–a popular method employed by most with these swathes of land,” she said. “In each furrow on private plots, people have put down plastic with holes in them, which facilitates moisture preservation and reduces the need for weeding.”

People are connecting plastic strips that are roughly 40cm in width to place down in the furrows. Holes are made every 35cm and seeds are planted within. The plastic not only helps contain moisture in the ground but also raises the ground temperature. This, in turn, improves the growth of vegetables and corn, according to the source.

While collective farm output lags under “Juche farming,” where problems like equipment shortages are endemic, individual plots teem with activity, thriving on innovative methods devised by its tenders. “At the end of the day, farming is more effective when there’s a landowner, and people generally believe now that collective farms aren’t going to yield a good harvest,” she concluded.

Read the full story here:
Individual innovation leaves collective farms in the dust
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-6-8

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South Korea allows fertilizer aid shipment

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

According to Reuters:

South Korea said on Monday it has approved a request by a private aid group to send fertilizer to North Korea, the first such move in nearly five years that signalled a slight relaxing of sanctions imposed after one of its navy ships was attacked.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, said it approved the shipment of 15 tonnes of fertilizer as part of a charity group’s project to build a greenhouse farm in the North.

The approval came despite a deadlock in dialogue between the two states and a ban on large-scale public or private aid to the impoverished North since May 2010, although some forms of help such as medicine have been allowed on humanitarian grounds.

South Korea imposed sanctions in May 2010 after a torpedo attack sank one of its navy ships killing 46 sailors, cutting off most political and commercial exchanges with the North. The North denies Seoul’s accusation that it was behind the attack.

Although the approval of fertiliser shipment was symbolic as the first of its kind in five years, a Unification Ministry official said it did not automatically mean the government was considering the resumption of large state-sponsored aid.

“Large-scale fertilizer support for North Korea should take inter-Korean situations and public consensus into account,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Gyeongam Foundation, a charity fund run by bed manufacturer Ace, has been operating the agricultural support program to build greenhouses for North Koreans and providing farming equipment.

During a period of warming ties beginning in 2000, South Korea supplied as much as 350,000 tonnes of fertilizer to the North annually, and up to 500,000 tonnes of rice as a goodwill gesture by the liberal leaders in Seoul in office at the time.

The election of a conservative leader in the South who took office in 2008 soured relations, with aid from the South falling sharply.

Food production in North Korea has improved in recent years largely due to favourable weather and minor changes to its farm policy, but it still relies on foreign aid to make up for the deficit in what is needed to feed its people.

North Korea, already heavily sanctioned by the United Nations for its missile and nuclear tests, is technically still at war with the South after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not with a peace treaty.

After a delegation of high-level North Korean officials made a surprise visit in October last year to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, South Korea has said it was willing to discuss the sanctions as a way to move forward in their ties.

North Korea has since refused to resume dialogue.

Read the full story here:
South Korea allows first fertilizer aid to the North since 2010 sanctions
Reuters
Ju-min Park
2015-4-26

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DPRK pushing forest restoration

Friday, April 10th, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea’s regime has increased the power of the country’s forest management departments to assist in a “greenification” scheme of the barren nation, but the campaign is facing setbacks as central authorities push ahead with planting unsuitable trees despite warnings from local officials, sources said.

Last year, authorities in North Korea launched a campaign of “nationwide greenification,” sources said, with the primary goal of planting trees to replenish soil nutrients and prevent erosion in the country, which has been ravaged by decades of environmental degradation.

As part of the campaign, authorities enlarged the size of state-run tree nurseries and fields for planting seedlings, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently announced that the public should “not lament the denudation of the forests, and organize trees species systematically and economically.”

The central government increased the size of each province’s forest management department, which had formerly been considered a hardship placement because of environmental neglect, and elevated its status to that of other state organs, a source from Yanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Provincial forest management departments have now become popular enough to compete against other organs of power,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Forest planning experts who had not been treated well before are now eligible as provincial committee members,” he said.

As part of the “greenification” campaign, the government significantly increased the supervisory power of the forest management departments, granting them control of tree nurseries and seedling production, sources said.

“This is because Kim Jong Un’s regime needs the agency to not only design forest restoration projects, but also determine how much land should be used, and even what species of trees should be planted on it,” the source said.

The forest management departments soon realized that existing plans, which relied on whatever saplings were available, had to be revamped to incorporate criteria such as species of tree, quality of soil and local climate into the planting process, a source from North Hamgyeong province told RFA.

Tree species requested by the forest management departments to suit their local conditions require at least three years to produce, the source said, but central authorities—eager to meet targets set as part of the “greenification” campaign—are demanding that the planting campaign proceed regardless.

“Even though it will take additional time, [local authorities] have to organize the forest scientifically and systematically, according to the requests of the forest management departments,” he said.

“There are lots of complaints to the forest organizing committees [under the forest management departments] pushing people to plant trees even though the correct species by region have not been produced.”

Barren landscape

According to the Seoul-based Korea Environment Institute, forest cover in North Korea dropped by 17 percent from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

Following the collapse in the early 1990s of the Soviet Union—which provided discounted oil to its communist ally—oil imports into North Korea dropped by more than half, while the use of firewood for heating more than doubled.

The Soviet Union had also provided fertilizer to the North, and when farmers were unable to produce enough food, forest area was cleared to make room for additional farmland.

Only 44.95 percent of North Korea was covered by forest in 2012, according to the World Bank, which says that the area has decreased every year since 2000, when 57.58 of the nation was forested.

Residents of the impoverished country routinely scavenge any organic material they can find for food, fuel or animal food, leaving little that contributes nutrients to the soil.

Without trees to hold the soil, rains frequently lead to flash floods and landslides in the country.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Pushes Ahead With ‘Greenification’ Despite Lack of Suitable Trees
Sung-hui Moon
Radio Free Asia
2015-04-10

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Effort to prevent outflow of capital into markets

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Since the start of the Kim Jong Un era, North Korea has introduced elements of a market economy while at the same time sought ways to mitigate the side effects caused by the rapid spread of market mechanisms.

The Choson Sinbo, mouthpiece of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (also known as Chongryon), revealed on February 22, 2015 that on a number of cooperative farms there are now ‘purchasing sites’ where farmers can barter and exchange goods. The newspaper explained that “[On the cooperative farms] there are purchasing sites where cheap goods are displayed and farmers are able to trade distributed agricultural products […] Through these sites it can prevent farmers from liquidating their produce and thus prevent funds from flowing into the market.”

Through the introduction of the ‘field responsibility system,’ North Korea has reportedly been able to meet demand for daily necessities at these purchasing sites. The state controls these sites in order to prevent farmers from taking goods to the jangmadang or the market when the surplus, which returns to the farmers, increases. Since entering the Kim Jong Un era, the field responsibility system has been expanded throughout the country and is credited with having contributed to North Korea’s increase in agricultural production. The system divides the bunjo (the small production teams on the cooperative farm) into family-sized units of 3 to 5 people and entrusts these units with the work of cultivating small-sized fields.

A system similar to the purchasing sites of the cooperative farms can be found in the city as well. The Choson Sinbo revealed that “[North Korean factories] are purchasing items like food and basic commodities produced in the country and are distributing them to workers as a portion of their wages.” In the years following Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, wages increased exponentially due to the introduction of incentives and the increase in the autonomy of factories and businesses. But because the threat of inflation becomes significant if those increased wages are paid entirely in cash, it is reported that businesses pay a part of workers’ wages in goods and commodities.

The Choson Sinbo added that the ‘Hwanggumbol Shop,’ a convenience store that has been appearing here and there in Pyongyang since December of last year, is also an effort by the state to prevent the rapid expansion of the market. The newspaper explained that the state-operated store focuses on supplying “cheaper prices than the market” and that the goal of the store is to guarantee “the circulation of money through state-operated stores.”

State-operated stores are an attempt to prevent the market from taking a central place in the circulation of money. This is accomplished by having state-run stores supply goods at a lower price than the market and thereby attract consumers. Different from the past, the current regime intends to utilize the market rather than restrict it. It is believed that North Korea will try to keep the market in a condition in which it can be suitably managed.

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South Korea to help develop fish farms in DPRK

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

South Korea, together with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), plans to help develop fish farms in North Korea as an aid to the impoverished state, the government said on March 17.

According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the Korea Maritime Institute will soon sign an agreement with the FAO to launch a joint study on the fish-raising industry in the North.

The two parties will study climate conditions in North Korea and find the best species for farming, and based on the outcome of the study, South Korea and the FAO will raise a 30 billion won (US$26.5 million) fund to help build new fish farms in the North, the ministry said.

The aid, however, will likely be delivered by the FAO as Pyongyang continues to be at odds with Seoul over its nuclear program.

Inter-Korean dialogue has nearly come to a halt after the North’s third nuclear test in early 2013. The communist state continues to blast daily threats and slander against the South’s Park Geun-hye government.

South Korea’s National Red Cross had offered to send 25 tons of powdered milk for the malnourished children of North Korea last month, but Pyongyang quickly rejected the offer.

North Korea is believed to have suffered a chronic shortage of food since the late 1990s. The country continues to depend heavily on international handouts to feed a large portion of its population of 24 million, accepting nearly $20 million worth of international aid in the first half of 2014 alone.

You can read the whole story here:
S. Korea to help develop fish farms in N. Korea
Yonhap
2015-3-17

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Kim Jong-un’s speech on animal husbandry

Friday, February 27th, 2015

North Korean media reports that on January 28, 2015, Kim jong-un delivered a speech to senior officials of the party and state economic agencies titled, “Let Us Expedite the Construction of the Livestock Farming Base in the Sepho Area and Bring about a New Turn in Developing Animal Husbandry”.

The western media that reported on the speech primarily latched onto a phrase used a the beginning where Kim Jong-un admitted to problems sleeping at night when he thinks about his people:

Whenever I am reminded of my failure to provide a rich life to these laudable people, who, in spite of their difficult living conditions, have firmly trusted and followed only our Party and remained faithful to their pure sense of moral obligation to the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, I cannot get sleep.

The majority of the speech, however, focuses on the development of the Sepho Tableland Stock-breeding Project. It does not appear to be going well. Kim opens with these optimistic words:

This is the first time for our country to create pastures covering tens of thousands of hectares and build a large-scale livestock farming base. Though they are inexperienced and many things are in short supply, the builders of the large-scale livestock farming base in the Sepho area are creating miracles and innovations to the wonder and admiration of all by giving full play to the fighting spirit of self-reliance and fortitude. The service personnel of the People’s Army and shock-brigade members, who have gone to the Sepho area in hearty response to the Party’s call, have created tens of thousands of hectares of pastures in a short period, taking up the challenges of Nature, and overfulfilled the last year’s target of grass production. Great successes have also been achieved in the road work and the construction of dwelling houses, animal sheds, public buildings and other structures.

Following these words, however, is a cascade of complaints and problems he wants resolved: Shortages of supplies for workers, poor soil, unsuitable grass for animals, strong winds, shortage of capital for investment in buildings, transport and production. There are also shortages of livestock, livestock feed, and technicians.

Kim then moves onto other problems with the nation’s livestock breeding enterprises.  He states:

We should normalize production at the modern livestock farming bases built under the Party’s leadership. […] several of them are not functioning properly because officials failed to take measures necessary for their normal operation after they were built.

So apparently many of the country’s livestock farms are incapable of turning out a regular [predictable] quantity of protein. Of course there is no data here, so we do not know if there is a problem with production or whether there is a problem with the production finding its way to official distribution channels. Either way, the Party Center is not pleased.

Kim Jong-un offered a laundry list of technological fixes to these problems:

“In order to develop livestock farming, it is necessary to solve the problems of animal breeds and their feed, improve the methods of raising them and take thoroughgoing veterinary and anti-epizootic measures.”

But little about enterprise management, or how it can be improved, is discussed in detail. For example Kim still officially believes that patriotism and propaganda campaigns can lead to sustained improvements in output:

“Party organizations at all levels, those in the stockbreeding sector in particular, should conduct a proactive political offensive to rouse officials and working people to carry out the Party’s line on animal husbandry. They should implant in their hearts the ennobling love for the people cherished by the General all his life, so that they will all turn out enthusiastically to carry out the Party’s policy. They should give wide publicity to the units and working people that do livestock farming with all consistency and enjoy benefits from it, and generalize their experiences.”

However, the speech was not entirely depressing from an economic perspective. Kim did reference private livestock farming as one option that could be encouraged to mitigate supply problems with the official agriculture sector:

“Private livestock farming at rural households should be encouraged. Every house teeming with domestic animals adds to the socialist rural scenery. Rural households should be encouraged to raise large numbers of pigs, goats, rabbits, chicken and other kinds of domestic animals so as to augment their income and enrich their lives.”

I have made a PDF of the entire speech and you can read it here.

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DPRK crop output in 2014

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Media sources report that North Korea experienced a surprisingly good harvest in 2014.

According to the Voice of America:

The GS&J Institute released a report based on statistics from the U.N.’s World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization. Dr. Gwon Tae-jin, who spearheaded the research, wrote that the North harvested 4.98 million tons of crops in 2014.

The FAO recently announced that the North harvested about 5.94 million tons of raw crops last year. The figure from the GS&J Institute is based on how much would be left after processing the raw crops for consumption.

Gwon explained that while the figure is lower than the previous estimate because of the drought in spring, the autumn harvest made up for the lackluster yield earlier in the year.

The report indicated North Korea’s crop harvest plunged from 4.05 million tons in 1995 to 2.57 million tons in 2001. However, the food security situation has improved since 2004, staying around 4 million tons in most years.

In 2011, the figure rose to 4.22 million tons, and when Kim Jong Un became the country’s leader in 2012, it rose to 4.45 million tons. The next year, it was 4.84 million tons.

Gwon said Pyongyang’s efforts to draw manpower to farming and prioritize the distribution of fertilizer and other materials for agriculture is the main reason behind the hike in crop harvest. He added that the new policy of letting farmers freely use a certain percentage of the harvest had also helped the productivity.

In a telephone interview with VOA, Gwon said, “North Korea, which overcame difficulty with international aid in the early 2000s, is now in the process of overcoming another difficulty through its own efforts, rather than aid.”

Despite the slight improvement, however, the North Korean government is not able to meet the minimum needed for food security.

In 2007, when the crop yield was low, Pyongyang was able to feed its people through imports and international aid. From 2008 on, the country has experienced food shortages because of a decline in international aid.

The latest report forecast crop distribution in the North to be lacking by some 80,000 tons, when totaling its crop harvest, imports and international aid.

I have not been able to locate the original UN or GS&J reports (VOA-you should site your statistics, or even better, link to them).

The increase in agricultural production occurred at the same time as a nation-wide drought. Could this be the effectiveness of the 6.28 Measures?

Read the full story here:
Report: N. Korea’s 2014 Harvest Best Since Mid-’90s
Voice of America
2015-2-6

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UNFAO on DPRK food supply outlook

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

On February 3, 2015, the UNFAO recently published the DPRK “Outlook for Food Supply and Demand 2014/15“.

Here are the highlights:

1. After increasing markedly for three consecutive years, food production remained stagnant in 2014 with the aggregate output put at 5.94 million tonnes (including cereals, soybeans and potatoes in cereal equivalent). This figure comprises the official estimate of the 2014 main harvest and forecast for the 2015 early crops from cooperative farms, as well as FAO projections of production from sloping land and household gardens.

2. Paddy production dropped by about 10 percent due to reduced irrigation water availability, following low precipitation in the winter and dry spells during the 2014 main season. However, this decline was compensated by a significant increase in maize output, as a result of mass mobilization of people to water maize plants.

3. Production of the 2014/15 early season potatoes and minor wheat and barley crops, to be harvested from next June, is forecast to fall considerably.

4. The total utilization needs for the 2014/15 marketing year (November/October) are set by FAO at 5.49 million tonnes of cereal equivalent and the cereal import requirement is estimated at 407 000 tonnes. The Government is expected to import 300 000 tonnes of cereals, leaving an uncovered deficit of 107 000 tonnes for the current marketing year. This gap is larger than in 2013/14 partly as a result of revised post-harvest losses.

5. With a stagnant harvest in 2014, the food security situation in 2014/15 is likely to remain similar to that of the previous marketing year, with most households estimated to have borderline and poor food consumption rates.

The report listed these statistics that I thought were worth highlighting:

The marginal increase (0.3  percent) in the 2014/15 food production follows three consecutive years of strong growth at 4.4 percent in 2011/12, 8.7 percent in 2012/13 and 3.5 percent in 2013/14. However, at the forecast level, production remains above the past five-years average.

Andrei Lankov takes an optimistic view of this report in his article for Radio Free Asia and in the Carnegie Moscow Center. He credits implementation of the 6.28 Measures.

Marcus Noland commented on technical aspects of the report (such as the fact that the assessment was made without direct access to the country).

Scott Snyder commented on some of the political economy around the reports findings in Forbes. He asks why the UNFAO was not allowed into the DPRK, and notes that Russia has become the DPRK’s largest food donor.

The Daily NK has also noted the stability of food prices in late 2014 and early 2015.

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Kim Jong-un’s 2015 new year address

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Martyn Williams has posted the best video of it (with English subtitles):

Here is coverage of the speech in the North Korean media (KCNA):

1. Kim Jong Un Makes New Year Address

2. Kim Jong Un Refers to Achievements Made by DPRK Last Year

3. Kim Jong Un Underlines Need to Consolidate Country’s Might as Socialist Political and Ideological Power

4. Kim Jong Un Calls for Fresh Turn in Building Revolutionary Armed Forces and Enhancing Defence Capability

5. Kim Jong Un Advances Tasks to Effect Upswing in Building Socialist Economic Giant and Civilized Nation

6. Kim Jong Un Set Forth Ways of Carrying out This Year’s Tasks

7. Kim Jong Un Deals with Issue of National Reunification

8. Kim Jong Un Deals with Issue of Foreign Relations

9. New Year Address Having Public Response

10. Workers and Farmers Meet to Vow to Implement Their New Year Tasks

Here is coverage of the speech in the international media:

1. N. Korean leader’s speech ‘meaningful': Seoul (Yonhap)

2. N. Korean leader’s speech arouses cautious optimism (Korea Herald)

3. Kim Jong-un says North Korea is open to ‘highest-level’ talks with South (Guardian)

4. Kim Jong Un Makes Apparent Summit Offer to South Korea (Wall Street Journal)

5. New Year’s Address Reveals a Nervous Leader (Daily NK)

6. Kim’s New Year’s speech reveals economic priorities (Lankov/NK News)

7. Jumping to Conclusions…Again (Klingner/38 North)

8. What’s New in Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Speech (38 North)

9. Kim Jong Un’s New Year Speech: The Prospects for the 2015 Economic Policy (IFES)

10. Pyongyang’s ‘Year in Review’ Package Emphasizes Kim (Wall Street Journal)

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