Archive for the ‘Food’ 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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Cafe culture thrives from extra time and cash

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Along with restaurants selling food such as pizza and hamburgers, a growing number of cafes are sprouting up across North Korea, breaking out of Pyongyang where they were once concentrated. Major cities in other provinces have seen an increase in relatively affluent and young people who are willing to splurge on coffee and western dishes, Daily NK has learned.

“In the areas around Hamheung Station square a lot of coffee and tea houses as well as hamburger shops have popped up,” a source in South Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “Around the intersection and marketplace, where there’s a lot of foot traffic, state companies under the Party and military have opened coffee and hamburgers joints to pull in more money.”

She added, “The coffee is imported from China and Italy. They’re drawing a lot of attention because they not only have hot teas but also all kinds of fruit juices and even an ice shaving machine for hotter days.” The places are becoming popular among donju [new affluent middle class], college students, and young people, as popular “hang out” venues.

“They also have drip coffee and Americanos that South Koreans love so much. They serve it in a 200ml cup right on the spot, and it’s roughly 12,000 KPW [1.48 USD] for one coffee,” she said. “In the case of ordinary residents, they’re unfamiliar with the taste, so many choose hot tea, which is only about half the cost, or they go with cold fruit juices as well.”

An increasing number of people are willing to pay for coffee and drinks, despite them being over double the price of an average laborers’ monthly wage. Such establishments are spreading in large cities such as Nampo, Pyongsong in South Pyongan Province, Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province, and Wonsan in Kangwon Province. Most of these cities are home to foreign currency-earning trading companies, according to the source.

“Restaurants and stands affiliated with trading companies tasked with earning foreign currency sell hamburgers, pizza, waffles and other processed foods made with ready-made mixes,” the source said. “Other restaurants that claim to be more upscale sell omurice [Japanese omelette stuffed with fried rice], curry, yakisoba [stir-fried noodles], and other varieties of Japanese dishes.”

She explained that while the prices at these coffee shops and hamburger establishments may be more than five times that of an average establishment, “more people are showing a tendency to splurge once or twice a month.” When cadres from the Central Party make business trips to areas outside of Pyongyang, provincial officials even escort them to these eateries as a form as hospitality.

This greater variety of cuisine has been welcomed by many, with people from affluent classes to young college students saying they are learning more about the world through various foods, according to the source. However, she did add some are not so pleased about tastes with which they are unfamiliar and the attending hefty price tags.

Read the full story here:
Cafe culture thrives from extra time and cash
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-5-22

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North Korea raising food quality and quantity

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Institute for Far Eatern Studies (IFES)
2015-5-21

“Currently, North Korea is not just addressing the issue of food quantity but is raising food quality as well,” the Chosun Sinbo reported on May 13, 2015 in an editorial entitled ‘The Sepho Plateau Ranches’ (Sepho dungpan mokjang). The Chosun Sinbo editorial made this argument and revealed that due to the food quality issue, “North Korea is pushing forward the development of the Sepho Plateau Ranches until the anniversary of the Party’s founding. These ranches are located throughout Kangwon province, the regional center of animal husbandry that produces North Korea’s edible meat, in the counties of Ichon, Pyonggang and Sepho.”

In reference to the food quantity issue, the editorial said, “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is reporting that North Korea will be food self-sufficient within three to four years […] When you think about the difficult food situation during the time of the ‘Arduous March,’ one cannot help but be moved.”

Regarding these ranches spread over three counties, the newspaper reported, “The site of Chosun University in Japan is approximately 7 chongbo [about 70,000 m2] in area, while these ranches are over 50,000 chongbo [496 km2], more than 7,000 times more vast […] Last year North Korea and the Mongolian People’s Republic reached an agreement in which the Mongolian People’s Republic will offer North Korea assistance in livestock farming technology as well as 10,000 livestock animals for free.” This agreement will contribute not just to the Sepho Plateau Ranches but to the overall development of North Korea’s livestock industry.

The newspaper also revealed North Korean society’s overall progress. “Although we do not have expertise in satellites, we can easily guess as to the technological significance of a successful satellite launch. In addition, the fishing industry, led by the People’s Army, has also had success in recent years and is filling the people’s tables with food,” the Chosun Sinbo reported.

It recalled the words of Kim Jong Un’s 2015 New Year’s address, in which he vowed to “solve the people’s food issues through the three axes of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and raise the standard of living to the next level.” It also pointed out that Kim Il Sung had said, “Let’s work so that everyone can wear silk clothes and eat meat soup in tile-roofed houses.”

Meanwhile, North Korea plans to cultivate Sepho tableland (the flat and expansive land of Kangwon province’s Sepho, Pyonggang and Ichon counties) and build a large-scale animal husbandry complex, creating hundreds of square kilometers of pastures and vegetable plots, hundreds of cattle sheds, over 20 livestock product processing plants and more than 1,000 employee residences.

As the people’s standard of living improves, North Koreans are also placing greater importance on things like technology, health and environmental-friendliness. At the ‘18th Pyongyang Spring International Product Exhibition,’ which opened on May 11, 2015, health products such as medicine sold better than ever. In addition, high-tech products such as energy-saving products and environmentally-friendly diesel engines exceeded the number of everyday products at the expo. Previously, North Korea primarily exhibited traditional products like ginseng, sea cucumber, and honey; but due to the emphasis on domestic technological development, businesses displaying domestic technological products are becoming more common.

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DPRK boosts food imports from Russia

Friday, April 17th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Rice prices in North Korea’s North Hamkyung and Yangkang Provinces have dropped despite general stability in market prices around the country. This is largely due to an influx of rice from Russia, offsetting regular price increases that come during the spring when grains fall short in supply.

“Rice sold for about 5,000 KPW [0.63 USD] per kg in Onsong County at the beginning of March, but recently that has dipped to about 4,200 KPW [0.53 USD],” a source in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on Wednesday. A source in Yangkang province confirmed a similar trend, saying, “The price of rice has been continually dropping in Hyesan Market, recently falling to the 4,000 KPW [0.5 USD] mark.”

Public demand for rice usually surges in April, and expectations were the cost would jump due to a clampdown on border movements this month that would block smuggled supplies. However, the supply from Russia has reversed these projections, multiple sources confirmed.

“Ships that can hold over 10,000 tons are carrying in wheat or rice from Russia through the harbors of Chongjin and Rasun,” the North Hamkyung source said. “These grains go to the military first, but then are flowing into the markets through back channels.”

He added that the North has been emphasizing relations with Russia more than with China this year, spurring a surge in trade as well as the dispatch of more workers to Russia to pull in foreign currency. This same source also reported multiple sightings –not only by him but but a host of residents–of shipments of oil and grains coming into the North from Russia.

Fluctuations in rice prices have not yet been confirmed in provinces other than the two cited above. Markets in Pyongyang and North Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju have held rice prices at the 5,000 KPW [0.63 USD] level as of mid-April, according to research by Daily NK. This is likely due to the added time it takes to transport rice to the inner areas of the country from the borders.

Both sources blamed power shortages for the delay, exacerbated by state crackdowns preventing traveling peddlers selling goods out of their trucks from entering the markets to do business. While this has contributed to the sluggish supply inland in the very short-term, prices are expected to level out soon.

Read the full story here:
Russian Supply Drives Down Rice Prices
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2015-4-17

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Increase in sales volume of domestic goods in North Korean stores

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on March 25, 2015 that the volume of domestic goods sold at North Korean stores is increasing.

“Every display is filled with all kinds of inexpensive, high-quality domestic goods. Numerous shoppers are purchasing these goods, all of which are produced at domestic light industry factories. This is a sight that is commonly seen today at Choson’s [North Korea’s] department stores,” KCNA reported.

The news agency also quoted the manager of Pyongyang’s Department Store No. 1: “In recent years there have been remarkable improvements in every indicator, from the amount and quality of light industry goods produced domestically to the brands and packaging. As this has occurred, demand for these goods has increased,” he explained.

While he says that stores are mainly selling domestically produced goods like food and cosmetics, he also said, “Because furniture and building materials, shoes and clothing, medicine and other goods are also low-priced and suited to the tastes and health of our people, they are gradually overwhelming imports.”

The manager of Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory commented as well: “Previously, our ‘Pomhyanggi’ (or ‘Spring Scent’) brand was the only product that people could point to as a cosmetics product […] But the popularity of Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory’s ‘Unhasu’ (or ‘Milky Way’) is rising, and when you include the units produced at Myohyang Cosmetics Factory, its units actually surpass ours and are putting up a strong challenge. We had better get ourselves together.”

At light industry factories across the country, production of food products is rapidly increasing, and quality is improving as well. But it has reportedly not been easy to meet the people’s demand. Thus, manufacturers are working to improve product design and manufacturing technology and pledge to actively help improve the lives of the people.

In addition to this, KCNA reported that at places like the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex and the Hamhung Automated Equipment Factory, they are also spurring on production of domestic products through means such as domestically producing raw materials and equipment.

Meanwhile, North Korea is building one modern foodstuff factory after another in Pyongyang. The Rodong Sinmun, mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party of Korea, reported on March 18, 2015 that in the Nakrang district, construction of the ‘corn processing plant’ entered its final stages. There are plans for this factory to produce around 10 different food items out of corn (corn is the most common food ingredient in North Korea), including corn noodles and snacks.

On February 10, 2015, in Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae district, ‘Mangyongdae Kyonghung Foodstuff Factory’ was completed and went into operation. KCNA emphasized that this foodstuff factory is “a modern and comprehensive food manufacturing center” and will supply residents with “tasty and nutritious food.”

Similarly, in June 2014, the Unha Taesong Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang’s Potonggang district finished construction and began production. North Korea’s official web portal,  ‘Naenara’ explained that the factory produces approximately 100 kinds of food such as bread, snacks, candy, beer, ham and sundae (or Korean sausage).

The fact that in a relatively short period of time modern foodstuff factories are continually being built in Pyongyang is consistent with the most important task of North Korea in the Kim Jong Un era: improving the food situation of the North Korean people. On February 18, 2015, First Chairman Kim Jong Un spoke at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party. There, he asserted that the improvement of people’s lives was the nation’s first priority, and he specifically emphasized the importance of solving the food issue. Unlike the past, recent efforts extend beyond solving the food shortage problem and aim to raise the quality of food for the people.

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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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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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The third anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death: Urging economic prosperity through economic development

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

This year marked the end of a three-year mourning period for Kim Jong Il’s death. To solidify Kim Jong Un’s rule, North Korea is urging for economic advancement and emphasizing economic prosperity and people’s happiness.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), increased its economy related news content from December 17. The entire December 22nd edition featured news on economic development: the front page headline read, “Let Us Seize All the Battle Goals of This Year”; news highlighted the achievements of the country’s cement factories, thermal power plants, insulation factories, cooperative farms, mines, and other front-line industries. In addition, pages two and four introduced economic development plans about fisheries and medical supplies. It also featured news touting rural villages’ ability to resolve vegetable shortages by growing vegetables rather than lawn in yards and by planting persimmon trees in villages.

The December 20th edition featured news of Kim Jong Un’s field guidance to Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Factory — his first since the end of the three-year mourning period for his father. The factory is named after Kim Jong Un’s grandmother and is one of the DPRK’s major textile factories. Kim stressed the problem with production of school uniforms and said, “The Party will fully take charge of the issue of school uniforms, shoes, school supplies, and school bags.”

Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju’s visit to the Orangchon Power Station No. 2 in North Hamgyong Province was also reported. This power station is significant in terms legacy. It began with Kim Il Sung’s order to resolve the power shortage problem in the North Hamgyong region. Power Station No. 1 was completed in 2007 during Kim Jong Il’s era. Power Station No. 2 was completed during Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The reason for the increased emphasis on economic issues is likely the desire to earn public support and improve public sentiment toward Kim Jong Un for resolving the country’s economic problems.

Meanwhile, the Voice of Russia reported that DPRK’s grain production increased this year against the previous year, recording 5.71 million tons. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS also reported this news, quoting a DPRK official from the Ministry of Procurement and Food Administration: “Despite the drought that we had this year, grain yield increased by 50,000 tons from last year at 5.71 million tons.”

This is the first official report released by DPRK authorities on yearly crop yield. It suggests that North Korea’s good harvest of last year continued with a good harvest this year.

Success in the agricultural sector is likely to lessen the burden of chronic food shortage, and Kim Jong Un’s various agricultural reforms are expected to gather momentum including “Punjo” farming management system, which involves the handing out of small plots of land, or “pojon,” to small sub-groups or sub-workteams, usually comprising a family unit.

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