Archive for the ‘UN Food and Agriculture Organization’ 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.


UPDATE (11-27-2015): Daily NK interviews one person in the country who says that this year saw a bumper harvest despite weather conditions, but not thanks to state reforms. The article says it’s not thanks to increases in collective farm harvests that things are going better, but because those tending individual plots have found better farming methods:

However, the number of people working hard to ensure the success of the rice harvests on collective farms is dropping. This is in large part due to the fact that despite reassurances from the state that farmers will receive sizable allocations of the harvest for their own use, for the past several years this has not been the case.

After “repeated failures by the authorities to fulfill stated promises,” he asserted, farmers have concluded that it makes no difference to them personally whether the collective farms do well or not.

Read the full article:
Despite Mother Nature, a bumper year for rice harvest
Lee Sang Yong


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 Political Prestige of North Korea’s Economic Reforms, and why it may be a Problem

Monday, September 28th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This certainly has been the season of contradictory information on North Korea’s food supply. The North Korean government is celebrating and claiming success of their agricultural reforms, while the FAO reports that things have gotten worse. Let us recap what has happened:

First there was the drought. North Korean state media described it as the worst one in 100 years. UN agencies predicted large-scale crop failures and appealed for food aid, warning that large shares of the population would be at great risk if aid did not come. The UN’s emergency response fund (CERF) allocated $6.3 million to counter the impacts of the drought. The rains came, however, and the drought alarms seemed to have been exaggerated.

Next, the North Korean media – assuming you can even talk about it as a single, coordinated entity – went the other direction. In July, the weekly Tongil Sinbo claimed that thanks to agricultural reforms, this year’s harvest had actually increased “despite adverse weather conditions”.

And recently, reports turned the other way again. In early September, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN declared that the cereal production forecast for the main season of 2015 had declined drastically from last year due to a “prolonged dry spell”.

The rain that eventually came in July and August, causing flooding in the northern parts of the country and leading to an estimated loss of one percent of all planted areas. The FAO rice production forecast for 2015 is 12 percent below that of last year. State food rations, the importance of which can be debated, declined drastically, according to the agency.

In the midst of all of this, North Korean propaganda is still claiming success for the reforms. Earlier this month, the state news agency KCNA reported that a “dance party” had been held in South Hwanghae, part of the country’s rice bowl, celebrating improving conditions on the countryside:

The performers presented cheerful dances depicting the happy agricultural workers who work and live in the rural areas now turning into a good place to work and live thanks to the successful embodiment of the socialist rural theses under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The picture gets even more complicated if one assigns meaning to the fact that cereal imports from China were reportedly lower in July this year compared to 2014. Figures from just one month might not indicate a trend, but given that July was a particularly dire month, these figures are still significant. If imports are being decreased because the official line is that agricultural conditions have improved, no matter the reality, that might be bad news for those in the North Korean public that rely on the public distribution system for any significant part of their consumption.

Either the FAO is right and the North Korean government wrong, or the other way around. Harvests this season cannot have been improving and getting worse at the same time. The FAO is probably far more likely than the North Korean government to have made a correct assessment here. Even if North Korean authorities aren’t claiming success of the reforms for propaganda reasons – which they may well be doing – it is hard to see why their statistical and monitoring capabilities would be better than those of the FAO.

So, the North Korean government is claiming that agricultural reforms are leading to better harvests and food conditions, even when they probably aren’t. Why would they do that? There are lots of possible reasons and one can only speculate.

One possible reason is that the agricultural reforms have become a prestige project. North Korean propaganda channels and news outlets have publically claimed that reforms are being implemented and leading to good results, even though some adjustment problems have been admitted. The same pattern, by the way, can be seen with regards to forestry policies – state media has publicized them with a bang and claimed that they just aren’t being implemented well enough by people on the ground when they don’t seem to be working as intended.

This could be an indication that agricultural reforms are indeed, like many have assumed, a major policy project of Kim Jong-un and the top strata.

That could be good news. After all, North Korea is in dire need of changes in agricultural structures, production methods, ownership and responsibility.

But it could also be bad news. When policies are strongly sanctioned and pushed by the top, their flexibility is likely to be inhibited. In other words, if the top leadership says that something should get done, it has to get done regardless of whether it works well or not.

Again, look at the forestry policies. According to reports from inside the country, those tasked with putting the new policies into practice on the ground say that doing what the central government asks isn’t smart or possible. Nevertheless, such orders are hard and risky to question.

At this stage it is only speculation, which is always a risky endeavor when it comes to North Korea. It may well later turn out to be wrong.

But if the state is placing enough prestige in the agricultural reforms to claim that conditions are improving even if they aren’t, that may lead to limited flexibility in how they are implemented and changed in the future. In other words, if the leadership thinks they are important enough to claim success even when things are getting worse, they may not be prone to changing their orders to fix what isn’t working.


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.


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


DPRK rice production unchanged from 2013

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s rice production this year is expected to be about the same as last year, a U.N. report said Sunday, reinforcing forecasts that grain production will not fall despite a severe drought in the country.

Rice production this year is estimated at 1.9 million tons, the same level as last year, while maize and pork production are expected to increase slightly to 2.3 million and 114,000 tons, respectively, according to the October edition of Food Outlook, a biannual publication of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In May, the FAO estimated the same production levels for North Korea, with the exception of pork, which was forecast at 113,000 tons.

With this year’s rice production, each North Korean is expected to eat 67.8 kilograms of rice between this fall and next summer, according to the report.

North Korea has long been a recipient of international food aid due to shortages caused by droughts, flooding and poor economic management.

However, the FAO representative in North Korea recently said in an interview that the country is projected to produce 6 million tons of grain this year and attain self-sufficiency in food within three to four years.

You can download the UNFAO report here (PDF).

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s rice production to remain at same level as last year: U.N. report


DPRK expected to produce 1.9 mln tons of rice in 2014

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is expected to produce 1.9 million tons of rice in 2014, the same amount that the country is estimated to have produced last year, the U.N. food agency said on May 13.

The figure represents an increase from 2010, 2011 and 2012 when North Korea’s average rice production reached 1.7 million tons, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a biannual global food report posted on its website.

The report said per capita rice consumption in North Korea is forecast to reach 67.8 kilograms this year, compared with 65.4 kg from a year earlier.

It also said North Korea is forecast to produce 2.3 million tons of maize this year, compared with 2.2 million tons in 2013.

Rice is a key staple food for both South and North Koreans, though North Koreans also rely on maize due to chronic food shortages.

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.

I spent a good 15 minutes looking for the report (which was never cited by name–sloppy reporting). If the report is to be found on the UNFAO web page, they sure don’t make it easy for a curious person to find.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea expected to produce 1.9 mln tons of rice in 2014: U.N. food agency


UN to contribute $400,000 to fight foot and mouth disease

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

UPDATE 1(2014-4-5): According to VOA and Yonhap, the DPRK has  submitted a report to the UN World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) on the outbreak of FMD:

The Voice of America (VOA) said that Pyongyang submitted a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), saying that the disease broke out at a cow farm in Cholwon county of Kangwon Province, near the boarder area with South Korea, on March 14.

Nine cows out of 52 were infected with FMD, and one of them died, it added.

It is the first time for North Korea to report FMD in cows. It has notified OIE of outbreak of FMD in pigs in February.

Last week, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the foot-and-mouth disease in North Korea had spread fast, infecting four cows near the border with South Korea.

According to the VOA, the United States, Canada and Mexico will consider providing vaccination to help North Korea upon its request.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-4-3): According to Yonhap:

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) plans to provide US$400,000 to North Korea to help eradicate the rapidly spreading foot-and-mouth disease there, a U.S. radio report said.

The FAO also plans to send quarantine officials to North Korea after finalizing its aid program there, the VOA said.

Foot-and-mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as pigs, cattle, deer and sheep.

In February, the North’s state media reported that the country had culled 2,900 pigs as a preventive measure to stop the spread of the disease and buried about 360 others that had died from the disease.

Last week, the FAO said the foot-and-mouth disease in North Korea has spread fast, infecting four cows near the border with South Korea, according to the VOA.

Still, North Korea remained mum for over a month on South Korea’s offer of assistance to contain foot-and-mouth disease.

The North’s silence comes amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the exchange of fire by the rival Koreas across their disputed western maritime border, as well as Pyongyang’s threat of a nuclear test.

Pyongyang has also threatened to carry out a “new form” of nuclear test in anger over a United Nations condemnation of its recent ballistic missile launches. North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, drawing international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

South Korea has vowed to continue humanitarian assistance to the North regardless of political tensions.

Read the full story here:
U.N. to provide US$400,000 to N. Korea over FMD: report


DPRK grain production up in 2013

Friday, December 27th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s grain production is expected to rise slightly this year, a report said Friday, possibly higher than initially estimated.

According to the report from South Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA), the North’s overall grain production in the 2013-2014 harvest year is expected to reach 4.81 million tons, up 3 percent from 4.68 million tons tallied in the 2012-2013 period.

The rise comes partly from an increase in rice output, which is estimated to gain 2.9 percent on-year to 2.1 million tons.

The figure has a gap with an earlier estimate from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which forecast the communist state’s rice output to reach 1.7 million tons this year, slightly better than the annual average of 1.6 million tons.

“The weather in North Korea this year had been more favorable to the growth of crops (than last year) as the average temperature between May and September came to 19.9 degrees Celsius, 0.3 degrees higher than that of last year, while the country’s overall precipitation also rose 7.5 percent on-year to 1,001.5mm over the cited period,” the RDA said in its report.

The report said the North’s corn output was also expected to have gained 1.7 percent on-year to 1.76 million tons this year. The FAO earlier forecast the North’s corn output to reach 2.3 million tons.

North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages with the average amount of rice and corn consumed by the people said to be only half of the daily consumption recommended by the United Nations.

Read the previous post on the UN food assessment report here.

Read the full story here:
Report says N. Korea’s grain production likely to grow this year


DPRK harvest up 5% for third year, but chronic malnutrition persists

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

“Speical Report: FAO/WFP crop and food security assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korean”
Read the full report here (PDF)Previous reports here.

According to the UN WFP/FAO Press Release (on Thanksgiving day!):

ROME/PYONGYANG – A nationwide assessment by two United Nations agencies shows an increase in staple food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the third year running.

The report, however, notes that although rates of child malnutrition have steadily declined over the past 10 years, rates of stunting caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life remain high and micronutrient deficiencies are of particular concern.

The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the DPRK by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) visited all nine agricultural provinces in late September and early October around the main annual cereal harvest.

Total food production is estimated at about 5.03 million metric tons (including milled rice) in 2013, which is about a 5 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the improved harvest, the food security situation is still unsatisfactory with 84 percent of households having borderline or poor food consumption.

The mission observed immense logistical challenges for the public food distribution system and expressed concerns about the timeliness and consistency of distributions. Markets and informal mechanisms of bartering and other forms of exchange are believed to be of increasing importance for access to food by families, particularly in urban areas.

“Despite continued improvement in agricultural production, the food system in the DPRK remains highly vulnerable to shocks and serious shortages exist particularly in the production of protein-rich foods,” said Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and co-leader of the mission. “In the interest of increased protein consumption and to reverse the downward trend of soybean production, the price paid to farmers for soybean should be increased.”

Since 1998, WFP in partnership with the government has produced blended fortified foods and nutritious biscuits for children and pregnant or nursing women. WFP has recommended a shift to a new product – Rice Soya Milk Blend – for children in nurseries to reduce stunting and wasting.

“Improving the diversity and quality of food provided through the child institution system is essential to improving children’s nutrition,” said WFP DPRK Country Director Dierk Stegen. “We want to produce Rice Soya Milk Blend but can only do so if we receive sufficient donor support.”

Despite a small reduction in the area planted, overall crop production in 2013/14 is estimated to increase due to generally favourable weather conditions that resulted in a higher rice crop.

The aggregate production from cooperative farms, plots on sloping land and household gardens estimated by the mission includes the 2013 main season harvest and the forecast for 2014 early season crops. Unusually early and heavy rains in July and early August compromised maize and soybean yields but had little effect on paddy.

The report estimated cereal import requirements at 340,000 metric tons for the 2013/14 marketing year (November/October). Assuming the official import target of 300,000 metric tons of cereals is met, there remains an uncovered food deficit of 40,000 metric tons for the current marketing year.

While this food gap is the narrowest in many years, it needs to be bridged either through additional purchases by the government and/or international support to avoid increased undernourishment during the current marketing year.

To improve food security and nutrition, the report recommends national and international support for sustainable farming practices, better price and market incentives for farmers and improvements in farm mechanization.

In nutrition, the report recommends that efforts should go toward improving dietary diversity and feeding practices for young children and women through strategies such as behavioural change, market reform and encouraging livestock and fish production; strengthening treatment of severe and moderate acute malnutrition; and better hygiene and sanitation practices.


1. Here is a follow up report in 38 North by Randall Ireson.

2. Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Assocaited Press.

3. High-Resolution photographs from DPRK can be downloaded here.