Archive for the ‘UN World Food Program’ Category

North Korean food shortage news roundup: October and November (updated)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This summer and fall has seen a somewhat contradictory stream of information about the North Korean food situation. First there were the drought warnings, which were closely followed by regime sources claiming that harvests were actually getting better thanks to agricultural reforms. During the fall, however, the picture painted by multilateral institutions like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) has been one of dire and continued problems.

In early October, the FAO said that North Korea’s staple food production could go down by 14 percent during the year compared to last year, as AFP reported:

North Korea’s staple food production could plummet by 14 percent this year because of bad weather, sparking fears of exacerbating chronic food shortages in the impoverished nation, according to the UN agricultural agency.

The gloomy forecast from the Food and Agriculture Organization comes as the reclusive communist country prepares for a lavish military parade Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The North is expected to produce 3.7 million tonnes of rice and corn this year, down from 4.3 million tonnes last year, according to a report from the FAO early warning system.

Pyongyang plans to import 500,000 tonnes of rice and corn from abroad, the FAO said, but it will not be enough to feed its 25 million people.

The country, plagued by regular droughts, will face a total shortfall of 1.2 million tonnes of its staples.

State media reported in early June the country’s main rice-growing areas had been badly hit by the “worst drought in 100 years”.

North Korea saw significant rainfall later, but analysts said the prospects for this year were still grim.

Full story here:
North Korea food production could drop 14%: FAO 
Yahoo News/AFP

Later last month, the FAO reiterated its concerns over North Korea in its yearly report on the state of agriculture in the world. Voice of America:

More than 26 percent of children in North Korea’s countryside are underweight, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report says.

The agency, in its recently released “State of Food and Agriculture 2015” report, also estimated that there are twice as many undernourished children in the communist country’s rural areas as in its cities.

Andre Croppenstedt, an FAO researcher who wrote the report, told VOA that “it’s normal to have a much higher percentage of children underweight in rural areas as opposed to urban areas,” but that the gap “is perhaps a little larger than usual” in North Korea.

The North Korean ratio is the 24th highest among the 123 low-income developing countries. Among East Asian countries, North Korea’s ratio ranked fifth, after East Timor, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Laos.

Read the full story here:
FAO: 1 in 4 Rural North Korean Children Underweight
Kim Hyunjin
Voice of America

And last month, WFP announced it was extending its aid to North Korea over next year due to expected food shortages. Voice of America again:

The United Nations’ food agency plans to extend aid to North Korea amid reports that the communist country is facing food shortages next year.

Damian Kean, a regional spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP), told VOA this week the agency plans to extend the current food aid program for another six months.

“This current program cycle is supposed to be finished this December. What we decided to do is to extend the program until the middle of next year,” said Kean.

He added that the agency needs an additional $23.3 million to fund the extension.

The WFP is conducting an assessment of the nutritional status of North Koreans to determine if further assistance is needed after June of next year, Kean said.

The agency launched a two-year food aid program in July 2013, and it had already extended the program through the end of this year.

According to Kean, the food shortages are affecting the most vulnerable groups, including young children and pregnant women.  More than 30 percent of North Korean children under five are experiencing stunted growth because of malnutrition, and more than a third of pregnant women and breastfeeding women are suffering from anemia.

Full story here:
UN to extend aid to North Korea
Kim Hyunjin
Voice of America

This all suggests, as one might have expected, that North Korean claims of successful agricultural reforms may not have been the whole truth. At the very minimum, had such reforms had a strong and positive impact, harvests shouldn’t be declining compared with last year. Or harvests could just be stronger than what they would have been after the drought absent economic reforms. In any case, North Korean claims of a growing harvest do not seem to have held out.

UPDATE 10-10-2015:

Marcus Noland at the Peterson Institute’s Witness to Transformation Blog offers an interesting theory on these numbers: they aren’t that bad when compared with output over the last decade.

Last week Yonhap ran a story titled “N.K. may suffer severe food shortage next year: S. Korean expert” in which Kwon Tae-jin, formerly of the Korea Rural Economics Institute and now at the GS&J Institute, argued that North Korea may be facing its greatest food shortage of the Kim Jong Un era. Numerous articles, citing reports from the UN system, have highlighted high rates of malnutrition, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children.

The problem is that while the situation appears to be deteriorating relative to last year, as shown in the chart above, the FAO forecast of actual food availability per capita for 2015-16 actually represents a slight improvement over conditions for most of this decade.

Detailed data from the FAO displayed in the table below confirm that while production is forecasted to decline for coarse grains, maize, and rice, only in the case of rice is output forecasted to be below the 2011-13 average, and in this case, increased imports are expected to offset most of the shortfall.

Full story here:
Is North Korean food insecurity being hyped? 
Marcus Noland
Witness to Transformation

What I wonder still is what this says about the progress of reforms, even if the figures aren’t particularly alarming. Also, the trend has been an increase in harvest figures over the past few years. So even if these figures aren’t particularly out of range, they still go against a trend of growth.


World Food Program North Korea funds down

Monday, October 5th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Voice of America reports:

The U.N. food aid agency said Thursday that its aid to North Korea’s vulnerable people dropped 44 percent last month because of a lack of funds.

A World Food Program spokesman said the organization in September provided 2,105 tons of food to 742,000 people who depend on external assistance, including pregnant women and children.

Last month’s amount was also significantly less than what the U.N. agency planned to provide. The agency’s goal was to provide 10,000 tons of food to 1.8 million people every month.

Recently, the agency scaled down distribution areas to 69 counties and cities across the country.

“The main reason for distributing less food in September was insufficient funding resources,” wrote Damian Kean, WFP’s regional communications officer, in an email to VOA.

To fund projects this year, the agency needs about $167.8 million, but it has secured only half of the amount so far, according to the agency’s website.

The FAO has also highlighted the problem. As mentioned in another post, while the North Korean government claims success for agricultural reforms and claims that the drought impact was very limited, international aid agencies paint a different picture. But data confusion is nothing unusual for North Korea, and perhaps the picture will change as both the North Korean government and multilateral agencies continue to reassess the situation.

Read the full article:

Cash-strapped World Food Program Cuts Aid to N. Korea

Voice of America



The drought that didn’t matter, North Korea says – thanks to agricultural reform?

Monday, August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

During the past few months, the World Food Program (WFP) has made reoccurring pleas for increased food assistance to North Korea to alleviate the food shortages expected from a severe summer drought. The North Korean government made similar statements and claimed that the drought was the worst one to occur in 100 years. Aid to the country was subsequently increased from the originally planned level, due to the drought. But now, one North Korean official is saying that food production ended up increasing, after all, thanks to agricultural reforms.

A recent brief by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University (IFES) cites a July issue of Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean state-run weekly newspaper. There, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the country, says that

“the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The article cited by IFES highlights the smaller work-team structure as key to the success of the reforms. Also, it almost outright states that greater economic incentives were the main factor (although they call it “enthusiasm” and “patriotism”):

“Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

This is interesting for several reasons.

First, the agricultural reforms seem increasingly pronounced. Though other reforms were reportedly backtracked earlier this year, the government seems eager to claim success for the road travelled in agriculture.

I have written elsewhere that the data doesn’t necessarily support a claim that reforms are working. There is still reason to be skeptical – after all, a North Korean government official claiming that his government’s policies are working is not surprising – but even the claim itself is interesting.

Second, the statement raises questions about monitoring and data gathering capacities, both of the regime and relief organizations in Pyongyang. Again, just a few months ago, alarm bells were ringing about a potential food shortage, and now, a regime official claims that food production has increased. What was the basis of the WFP and regime claims that a food shortage was imminent a few months ago, and what has changed since those claims were made?

Another recent IFES brief also deals with North Korean press reports about the agricultural reforms. It quotes a Rodong Sinmun article from earlier in the summer that brings up some adjustment problems that farmers have had, such as learning how to properly use fertilizers. The most interesting part in my opinion is the following:

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.”

Thus, it seems like Pyongyang wants to encourage experimentation and diversity in production methods. This would be a potentially important step towards more efficient agriculture. Perhaps it is part of a pattern. Provinces have reportedly gotten significant leeway in setting up their respective special economic development zones, which could also be a way to encourage experimentation in policies and management methods.

According to the Tongil Sinbo article, reforms are set to expand further in the country given the alleged success. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we can learn more about them through assessments by multilateral organizations like WFP.


Aid to North Korea up by 110 percent in July

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

According to UPI citing World Food Program sources, aid to North Korea increased by more than 100 percent from June to July of this year:

Food aid to North Korea more than doubled from June to July and over 3,000 tons were distributed to pregnant women and children, according to the World Food Program.

Damian Kean said Monday the July delivery of 3,231 tons of highly nutritional food items for infants and expectant and nursing mothers is this year’s largest, Voice of America reported.

In June, the World Food Program said 1,528 tons of food was sent to North Korea, and aid reached a low in February when only 1,187 tons of food reached the reclusive country.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the July food aid package was the biggest in 19 months, but the number of aid recipients decreased from 632,000 to 620,000 between June and July.

The World Food Program’s fundraising goal of $168 million – needed to provide highly nutritional food packages to 1.8 million hungry North Koreans – has only reached half, or $82.9 million, of its target number.

The U.N. organization has postponed the termination of its North Korea food aid program, due to an ongoing drought in the country that is posing risks to the food supply.


North Korea’s donor fatigue

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The Wall Street Journal reports on the difficulties the UN World Food Program faces trying to find supporters for its operations in North Korea:

The United Nations aid program for malnourished North Koreans may close after raising only a fraction of the money it needs to operate in the country, a senior U.N. official said in a call for donations.

“We may need to scale down or think about closing altogether,” Dierk Stegen, the Pyongyang-based North Korea head for the U.N. World Food Program, said in an interview.

The agency, which has operated in North Korea since 1995, could shut early next year if there is no indication it will be able to raise needed funds by the end of October, he said. One complication is that North Korea’s humanitarian crisis has been overshadowed by the conflict in Syria and Ebola outbreak, he said.

While North Korea is getting better at feeding its people, hundreds of thousands of young infants and their mothers remain chronically malnourished, he said.

Contributions from private organizations and the South Korean government in recent weeks have helped, but the program is far from its goal of $50 million, already a significant reduction from the original target of $200 million it set last year.

The North Korea food-assistance program has drawn flak from critics who say the regime takes advantage of the agency’s largess, devoting its resources to developing its nuclear weapons program and constructing amusement parks while its people suffer. Critics also say the agency can’t be sure its assistance is reaching the intended recipients.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who has studied North Korea’s food situation, said that the WFP’s work in the country was “a disappointment—perhaps a terrible disappointment,” arguing that the agency has put up little resistance even as Pyongyang restricts oversight from foreign aid groups.

“Outside humanitarian assistance will not work in North Korea unless it is ‘intrusive’—and the WFP has no stomach for such work,” Mr. Eberstadt said.

Mr. Stegen acknowledged past shortcomings in its ability to monitor the distribution of its aid, but blamed a lack of funding and cited recent improvements in its access inside the country. He said that the WFP can now get permission within 24 hours to visit any school or household that is receiving its aid. In the past, two weeks’ notice was required.

Mr. Stegen said that criticism of a government’s priorities isn’t unique to North Korea, and urged donors to prioritize vulnerable infants over politics.

“Intervention and assistance on a humanitarian basis should be separated from political things,” he said.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s government approved $7 million in new funding to the WFP, its first such contribution since 2007. While South Korea’s conservative government has talked tough on North Korea, it has also pursued a policy of “humanity” toward the North, particularly infants and young mothers.

The U.S., by far the largest donor to the WFP’s North Korea work, hasn’t contributed since 2009, when Pyongyang tightened its rules on monitoring food aid by restricting the number of Korean-speaking monitors allowed into the country, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report published in April.

The WFP’s fundraising efforts have also been hampered by rising awareness of North Korea’s human-rights violations. Earlier this year, a special U.N. commission published a landmark 400-page report which said the regime selectively starves its population based on factors like political loyalty, and recommended the U.N. Security Council refer Kim Jong Un and other senior officials to the International Criminal Court.

Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called North Korea’s system of prison camps “unfathomable” and a sign of what he described as “barbarity, inhumanity—I think you can call it evil.”

Mr. Stegen said North Korea had markedly improved its capacity to produce food for its people since a devastating famine in the 1990s. He said that fewer people in the country remain hungry today, even as the population has increased.

But he cautioned that the country’s agricultural efforts have focused too much on producing rice and other grains, at the expense of protein. That has led to malnourishment of infants and children under the age of four, he said, putting them in danger of stunting, even as Kim Jong Un has made a public show of encouraging fisheries as a potential source of protein.

“For many of the children of North Korea, it’s already too late,” said John Aylieff, the WFP’s deputy regional director for Asia. “They’ve been dealt a life sentence of impaired mental functioning and impaired physical development.”

A drought earlier this year has also meant a throttling back of government rations to ordinary citizens, which fell to about 250 grams a day, Mr. Aylieff said. That is less than half the targeted rations, and the lowest in several years.

As a result, the aid agency is expecting a surge in acute malnutrition this year. “We hope potential donors will see the humanitarian imperative,” Mr. Aylieff said.

Marcus Noland, an economist and North Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said that given the WFP’s funding problems, its ability to monitor its work would be limited.

“Trying to maintain an underfunded program in that environment is practically inviting an aid diversion scandal,” he said. But the WFP’s absence from North Korea would also likely exacerbate any food crisis.

“The advantage of having the WFP in-country in even a limited capacity is that they are pre-positioned to monitor conditions and respond if there is an emergency,” Mr. Noland said.

Read the full story here:
U.N. North Korea Food Program in Danger
Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Cheng


China donates US$1m in food assistance

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

China donated US$1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations’ food assistance body, to help feed malnourished North Korean children and pregnant women, a U.S. report said Tuesday.

The donation will be used to provide food to around 1.8 million North Korean babies, children and expecting mothers, according to the report by the Washington-based Voice of America.

China has previously donated the same amount of money for WFP’s North Korean assistance program last December.

Since the beginning of 2014, WFP has collected $49 million in donations for North Korean food assistance from countries such as Switzerland, Australia and Canada.

The amount accounts for only 35 percent of what WFP needs to accomplish their food aid programs for North Korea in the first half of this year.

Read the full story here:
China donates US$1 mln to help feed N. Korean children


UN World Food Program cuts nutrition program for DPRK

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The World Food Programme (WFP) has decided to curtail its nutrition program for North Korean babies and pregnant women by about 30 percent due to a lack of funding, a U.S. report said Thursday.

The WFP is operating the two-year nutrition program worth US$200 million in North Korea through 2015, targeting 2.4 million children under the age of 5 as well as pregnant women.

But a lack of funding seemed to lead the U.N. food agency to decide to reduce the operation of its nutrition program, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The WFP’s total budget for its humanitarian aid to North Korea reached $137.5 million, down about 30 percent from its original plan, according to the report, it added.

The number of North Korean children and pregnant women who benefited from the WFP’s program reached some 840,000 last month, far below the agency’s target.

Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the WFP, said in late May in Seoul that its nutrition program stands at a “very crucial juncture,” adding that it had received only 20 percent of the funding required to implement the program.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people suffering from chronic food shortages.

The WFP’s humanitarian aid to North Korea reached $26.56 million last year, compared to $86.94 million in 2012, according to the U.N. food agency.

In November, the agency said that food production in the North is estimated to have been 5.03 million metric tons in 2013, up 5 percent from the previous year.

Stephan Haggard has a review of the WFP’s efforts in the DPRK here.

Read the full story here:
Underfunded WFP cuts nutrition program for N. Korea: report


DPRK food rations in May 2014

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s food ration dropped to its lowest level in four months in May, a U.S. radio report said Tuesday, in what could be the latest sign of chronic food shortages.

North Korea doled out 410 grams of food for each person per day in May, compared with 420 grams on average in February, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said, citing the U.N. World Food Programme.

The North’s daily food ration is lower than the WFP’s minimum recommended amount of 600 grams and the North Korean regime’s target amount of 573 grams, the radio said.

North Korea reports information on its food distribution to the United Nations every month to receive international food assistance.

North Korea said it distributed food to 16 million out of 24 million people, though it could not be verified how many North Koreans receive the food ration through the public distribution system, the radio said.

In May, Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the WFP, said her agency’s nutrition program for North Korean children and pregnant women stands at a “very crucial juncture” due to a lack of funding.

She said that the U.N. food agency has received only 20 percent of the funding required to implement the program, which is “critically underfunded.”

The WFP’s humanitarian aid to North Korea reached US$26.56 million last year, compared to $86.94 million in 2012, according to the U.N. food agency.

The North has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s, when it suffered a widespread famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

Voice of America also reports on this.

Here are previous posts on the DPRK’s food (2013, 2014) and agriculture situations.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s food ration hits lowest level in 4 months


North Korea food rations for Kim Il-sung birthday

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea doled out 420 grams of food to each person per day in April, the same amount as in the previous month, a news report said Tuesday.

Citing the U.N. World Food Program’s office in Pyongyang, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that last month’s daily food ration per capita was unchanged from March though the North marked the 102 birthday of Kim Il-sung, founder of the communist country and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

The founding father died in 1994, and his birthday is one of the most important holidays in North Korea.

The RFA said April’s daily food ration was much lower than the 600 grams recommended by the U.N. agency.

North Korea’s daily food ration, which amounted to 400 grams in January, has been hovering at 402 grams since then.

The Washington-based Voice of America (VOA), meanwhile, said the WFP provided 2,405 tons of food aid to the impoverished country last month.

The food assistance in April was up 50 percent from March and the largest monthly amount this year, but it was much lower than the 4,093 tons provided during the same month a year earlier, the VOA reported.

The WFP has also suspended operations of five out of its seven confectionery factories in North Korea due to a fund shortage, the VOA said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea rations 420 grams of food to each person in April


UN WFP gives DPRK $3.2m assistance in Feb 2014

Friday, February 28th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

 The U.N. food agency has provided emergency food aid worth US$3.2 million for children and pregnant women in North Korea earlier this month, according to a news report.

The World Food Program (WFP) has given the emergency funding assistance in February, Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported Thursday, citing a spokesman handling North Korean affairs.

The U.N. body has said earlier that it will close five out of its seven factories within this month that produce nutritious biscuits due to a lack of funding, the report said, amid an apparent donor fatigue over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

On Thursday, North Korea fired what appeared to be four short-range ballistic missiles off its southeast coast, South Korean officials said, in a suspected reaction to U.S.-involved military exercises in the South that Pyongyang condemns as a rehearsal for invasion.

The WFP said in November that food production in the North is estimated to have been around 5.03 million metric tons in 2013, up 5 percent from the previous year.

Still, the food security situation remains serious, with 84 percent of all households having borderline or poor food consumption, according to the U.N. food agency.

A few days ago, a report titled “Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) 200532 “Nutrition Support for Children and Women” in DPR Korea” was released with additional data.

Read the full story here:
WFP gives US$3.2 mln in emergency aid to N. Korea: report