Archive for the ‘2012 food shortage’ Category

The credible commitment problem of economic reforms

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

We have all been watching whether the DPRK will implement economic policy adjustments that strengthen material incentives to farmers, workers and enterprise managers to increase production. I have cataloged many of these stories/articles/observations here.

Today the Daily NK offers a scenario as to why the DPRK has not implemented more generous agricultural production incentives:

A Hyesan-based source explained today, “Cooperative farm cadres are saying that none of the experimental farms will be given 30% of their production this year because it has become difficult to meet the target. They are saying that the harvest is not good and they need to feed the military as a matter of priority, so first they’ll guarantee the military rice then give the rest to the farmers.”

A Shinuiju source corroborated the story, saying that the authorities “haven’t said they are going to take all the production from the farms, but nobody actually thinks they are going to get very much. People who trusted the official words are feeling quite stupid, and nobody is working very hard.”

Back in July, each province designated a number of ‘model farms’ that were to be used to test the policy. These farms were supposed to receive their initial inputs of fertilizer and machinery from the state, and then be given 30% of their production in return.

“They are saying that the state does not have enough rice right now and that there is no choice but to give it to the military, so please try to understand,” the source said. “Farm workers, many of whom had been buoyed by talk of food distribution, are really disappointed, especially since prices are sky high in the market these days.”

Anyone who has taken a game theory class will note the presence of credible commitment problems and backwards induction.

If a game consist of two players (the state, farmers) operating in an environment where credible commitment is not attainable, one could argue that an outcome where the state promises to increase agricultural incomes yet farmers work less is the predictable result. Here is why: If at the beginning of the game the state says “we will raise your incomes if you produce more” and farmers respond by producing more, in the absence of credible commitment, at the end of the game the state can simply take all the increased production and pay no more. There is nothing to force the state to actually keep its word once the increased output has already been produced (assuming policy makers with short time horizons). Of course by utilizing backwards induction farmers realize this and do not increase production despite the promise of higher incomes. In the limit case, the DPRK announces economic policy adjustments, nobody believes them, and nobody moves to increase labor supply in the official sector of the peoples’ economy.

If the DPRK wants to offer effective policy adjustments that lead to real increases in output it must not only promise greater material incentives to workers and managers but it must do so in a believable way. Unfortunately there are no simple mechanisms to credibly bind the hands of the North Korean policy makers within the DPRK. In the absence of suitable constraints on state power (broadly defined), this means that reputation capital is even more important for achieving desired policy goals. This is why the decision to back-peddle on the 6.28 agricultural policies, if this is indeed what happened, is perhaps the most damaging move of all in terms of improving economic performance. Taking the North Korean government at its word (reputation capital), the farmers who increased effort in the fields (expecting a 30% ownership of their output in return) have instead given the state a free lunch. They will not be so inclined to increase output the next time the government comes knocking on their door offering dreams of a chicken in every pot.

If the DPRK government hopes to induce workers to increase labor supply through official channels, relying on nothing more than reputation, it is going to have to pay for failing to live up to its economic commitments in the past. In other words, it is going to have to slowly build up its reputation capital again by increasing the incomes of workers through a policy that is not likely to pay off for several years. It is only after workers again feel confident that the state will not back-peddle on the promise to let them retain 30% of their output that they will increase labor supply and output.

Read the full story here:
6.28 Agriculture Policy on the Back Foot
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2012-10-12

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Some food, inflation, and trade data

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

These are all interesting data points. Do you think they offer reasonable journalistic evidence that the DPRK is practicing inflationary public finance?

First, Yonhap reports on DPRK food imports from China (2012-9-29):

North Korea’s grain imports from China slipped 16.3 percent on year in the first eight months of this year, in an apparent sign that the North may diversify its supply channels of grain, a Seoul researcher said Saturday.

North Korea imported 181,264 tons of rice, flour, corn and other grains from China in the eight-month period, compared with 216,535 tons for the same period last year, said Kwon Tae-jin of the state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute.

The decline in grain imports from China may be attributed to a rise in food aid from China and purchases from non-China markets such as Europe and South America, Kwon said.

“Including imports from non-China markets, North Korea’s total grain imports appeared to rise this year,” Kwon said in a report posted on his Web site, adding Pyongyang may “diversify its import channels.”

At the same time the Daily NK reports that food prices continue to rise (2012-10-2):

Internal sources informed Daily NK over the holiday that on September 29th the price of rice was 6,700 won/kg in Pyongyang, 7,000 won/kg in Onsung, North Hamkyung Province and 6,500 won/kg further west in Hyesan, Yangkang Province.

Not only do these prices far exceed those of Chuseok 2011, they even far exceed those of earlier this year.

The Hyesan source explained that on the day before the Chuseok holiday (Saturday) the atmosphere in the market was thus rather uncomfortable. “It was very slack,” she said. “People couldn’t buy anything easily, so most just seemed to be looking.”

Secondly, Yonhap reports that despite situations like those experienced by Xiyang or in Musan, mineral exports to China are up (2012-10-2):

North Korea’s exports of mineral resources recorded a 33-fold jump over the past decade with China remaining the biggest importer of the North’s iron ore and coal, a report showed Tuesday.

North Korea’s mineral exports stood at a meager US$50 million in 2001, accounting for 7.8 percent of its total exports, according to the report by Seoul’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

The mineral exports soared to $243 million in 2005 and $1.65 billion in 2011, accounting for 59.4 percent of the North’s total exports last year, the report said.

South Korea has estimated the total values of mineral deposits in North Korea at some $6.3 trillion.

Last year, North Korea exported $1.17 billion worth of anthracite coal and $405 million worth of iron ore, with China importing almost 100 percent of anthracite coal and iron ore, it said.

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DPRK affected by rising rice prices, currency depreciation

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Pictured above (Daily NK): The 2012 Won / US$1 exchange rate up to 2012-7-13.

According to data provided by the Daily NK, the won/dollar exchange rate fell (the won appreciated relative to the dollar) nearly 28.4% from 5,100W/US$1 in December 2011 (a high following Kim Jong-il’s death) to approximately 3,650W/US$1 in February 2012. Since February, however, the won has showed a steady depreciation and the exchange rate has risen 48%  to 5,400W/US$1 as of July 13.

So as I sit here eating breakfast I am wondering what caused these swings in the exchange rate?

Firstly, what was behind the dramatic fall in the exchange rate (and food prices) in January and Febraury? A simple answer may be a decrease in uncertainty and risk.  Following Kim Jong-il’s death, the DPRK did not repeat the mistakes made after the passing of Kim Il-sung.  For the most part markets remained open and “regular” activities of the state were highlighted in the domestic media and reported to contacts overseas. It is also possible that Chinese intervention, particularly in the form of food assistance and trade facilitation, could have played a role.

Secondly, does this mean that the increase in the exchange rate and food prices is a result of growing uncertainty? I am not convinced. It is beyond the scope of a blog post to tease this kind of information out, but here are some other things to think about: Economic uncertainty (pending policy changes, inflationary public finance), balance of trade (fall in net exports/rise in net imports, aid), capital flows (investment, aid, remittances), weather (drought/floods), “lean times” leading up to the fall harvest.

Some of these things matter more than others but it is important to keep in mind that the North Korean won is worth about as much today as it was when Kim Jong-il died. Since the won/US$ exchange rate is highly correlated with the price of rice (a fact that can be visually confirmed on the Daily NK web page) this means that food prices are also pretty high at the moment.

UPDATE 1 (2012-8-16): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) has also posted a few words on this topic:

Rice Prices and Exchange Rate on the Rise
2012-8-16

Since Kim Jong Un’s ascent to power, the rice prices and exchange rates are on the rise. Despite Kim Jong Un’s proclaimed priority in elevating the quality of life for the North Korean people, uncertainty are prevalent in the country as Kim Jong Un has yet to meet the expectations of the people for economic revitalization or reform.

Compared to last year, the prices of rice last September that ranged 2,400 to 2,500 KPW per 1 kg, has jumped to 4,500 KPW in December right after the death of Kim Jong Il and exchange rates that averaged 2,800 to 3,000 KPW against one USD soared to 5,000 KPW. Although the prices have stabilized since then, the prices are climbing once again, as the price of rice in February at 3,100 KPW has gone up to 3,600 KPW/kg and exchange rate of 3,700 KPW per dollar jumped to 4,800 KPW in June.

In some places, the price of rice is reported to be above the 5,000 KPW range. According to Daily NK, an internet news outlet, the prices of rice in major cities like Pyongyang, Haesan, and Sinuiju has steadily increased for the last four months.

The price of rice in Pyongyang was 2,600 KPW/kg in April but it has slowly climbed to 3,000 KPW in June 5 to 4,900 KPW in end of June and is 5,300 KPW as of July 13. In Sinuiju and Haesan, the rice prices in April were around 2,600 to 2,700 KPW but soared to 4,300 to 5,000 KPW in July 13.

Exchange rates are also unstable as exchange rate to one US dollar that averaged 3,700 KPW in March soared to 4,200 KPW in April 25, 4,400 KPW in July 14 to 5,400 KPW by July 13.

Seasonal factors are also adding to the price fluctuations. May to August is normally a difficult time for North Korea with frequent famine. Combined with extreme drought conditions in June, accelerating inflation, and people’s rising apprehension about the economy, some rice wholesalers are not withholding the sales of rice.

The rising rice prices and exchange rate is expected to continue for the time being. Flood damages and other natural disasters and the trauma from the failure of last currency revaluation in November 2009 are factors adding to the price escalation.

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DPRK: WFP Sends Food To Flood-Hit Regions

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Pictured above: UN World Food Program map of affected areas.

According to the World Food Program web page:

WFP is sending a first batch of emergency food aid to flood-hit areas in the south of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) where torrential rains have left 88 people dead and over 60,000 people homeless.

The emergency food assistance will provide the flood victims with an initial ration of 400g of maize per day for 14 days.

Storms and heavy rain across the country between 18 and 29 July have caused widespread flooding, and in some places severe damage to homes, infrastructure and farmland. The most affected counties are Anju City and Songchon in South Pyongan Province, and Chonnae in Kangwon province.

A UN mission recently which recently travelled to flood-affected regions found considerable damage to maize, soybean and rice-fields damage (Read report). WFP continues to monitor the situation.

A comprehensive assessment of the food situation and of prospects for food production is scheduled for September.

The New York Times also reported on this story.

UPDATE 1 (2012-8-6): Vietnam is donating food to the DPRK.

UPDATE 2 (2012-8-7): The Red Cross is distributing aid in the DPRK.

UPDATE 3 (2012-8-8): The UN has created a portal through which all of the UN agencies are posting information. See it here. See here information on “Who is doing what”.

UPDATE 4 (2012-8-10): China donates US$1 in assistance to the DPRK.

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Food and other commodity prices on the increase

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Daily NK reports that food is now at record prices (5,oooW/kg) despite the food market operating under ‘normal’ operations. According to the article:

The price of rice has hit 5,000 North Korean Won/kg in the market in Hyesan, Yangkang Province. This is the first time that the psychologically significant price point has been reached under ‘normal’ market operations in the region.

A source from the city told Daily NK today, “The price was just 4,500 won as recently as the 5th, but this morning it reached 5,000 won. The prices of all other items are also on the rise, and as corn and rice prices rise in the midst of an already difficult food situation, many households are buying less food.”

Rice prices in other regions are rising too, other sources have informed Daily NK. Rice was selling for 4,500 won in Musan, North Hamkyung Province on the 5th, and had already exceeded 5,000 won in Muncheon, Kangwon Province on that same day.

Rice prices in North Korea tend to reflect the upward (or downward) trend in the exchange rate of the day, indicating the strong causal relationship between them. So it is no surprise that whereas the Chinese Yuan exchange rate was 800 to 1 on July 5th, it had risen to 810-820 won/Yuan by July 9th, and today reached 860 won/Yuan (July 10th).

Increasing exchange rates and rice prices will inevitably exert upward pressure on all prices, aggravating inflation. Naturally, people are complaining, “How are we meant to survive when rice is so expensive?” the source commented.

Prices rises are of course not the problem–they are a symptom of the problem: the DPRK has a poorly developed agricultural production and and distribution infrastructure. Although the North Korean people have shown great ingenuity at developing local coping mechanism do deal with adverse agriculture supply shocks (such as hoarding, making liquor, preserving food, cultivating private plots, and using cell phones to solve problems), they still lack access to crop insurance, futures markets, infrastructure, security of land and earnings, inflation, etc.

Read the full story here:
Rice Arrives Back at 5,000 Won
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol
2012-7-10

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Lankov on the North Korean economy

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Andrei Lankov highlights in a recent Asia Times article some observations (qualitative data) that indicates the DPRK has seen significant growth in recent years. He is careful to qualify his observations with caveats that the level of growth in the country as a whole (as opposed to Pyongyang) remain more difficult to determine.

More expensive shops stocking luxury goods are becoming more numerous as well. Gone are the days when a bottle of cheap Chinese shampoo was seen as a great luxury; one can easily now buy Chanel in a Pyongyang boutique; and, of course, department stores offer a discount to those who spend more than one million won on a shopping spree. One million won is roughly equivalent to US$250 – not a fortune by the Western standards but still a significant amount of money in a country where the average monthly income is close $25.

The abundance of mobile phones is much talked about. Indeed, North Korea’s mobile network, launched as recently as late 2008, has more than one million subscribers. It is often overlooked that the old good landline phones also proliferated in the recent decade. A phone at home ceased to be seen as a sign of luxury and privilege, as was the case for decades. Rather, it has become the norm – at least, in Pyongyang and other large cities.

The capital remains badly lit in night, but compared with the norm of some five or 10 years ago, the situation has improved much. The electricity supply has become far more reliable, and in late hours most of the houses have lights switched on.

Of course, this affluence is relative and should not be overestimated: many people in Pyongyang still see a slice pork or meat soup as a rare delicacy. The new posh restaurants and expensive shops are frequented by the emerging moneyed elite, which includes both officials and black/grey market operators (in some cases one would have great difficulty to distinguish between these two groups). In a sense, Pyongyang’s prosperity also reflects the steadily growing divide between the rich and poor that has become a typical feature of North Korea of the past two decades.

Nonetheless, those foreign observers who have spent decades in and out of Pyongyang are almost unanimous in their appraisal of the current situation: Pyongyang residents have never had it so good. It seems that life in Pyongyang has not merely returned to pre-crisis 1980s standards but has surpassed it.

And how can we explain these developments? Lankov offers three theories:

The first seems to be the growth of private economic activity. Estimates vary, but most experts agree that the average North Korean family gets well over half its income from a variety of private economic activities.


The second reason is the gradual adjustment of what is left of the state-controlled economy. Nowadays, North Korean industrial managers do not sit by helplessly when they cannot get spare parts or fuel from the state – as was often the case in the 1990s. Instead, they try to find what they need, often getting the necessary supplies from the private market.


The third reason is, of course, Chinese economic assistance and investment.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s pools of prosperity
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov
2012-7-7

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China offers large-scale food aid to North Korea from February

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-6-22

China began to provide large-scale food assistance to North Korea from late February, reported KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) in its recent report.

The Korea Business Center (KBC) in Canton, KOTRA’s overseas branch, released a report about the details of China’s food assistance to North Korea. “China is the largest supplier of material goods to North Korea but even the major North Korean experts in China do not have the exact figures of aid provided to North Korea.” Based on the information gained from local media and interviews with experts, “North Korea requested food assistance of at least 200,000 tons, as well as assistance in construction materials. The amount is estimated at more than 600 million yuan RMB.”

According to Chian Grain Reserves Corporation and Dalian Commodity Exchange, 6,600 million yuan RMB is equivalent to 150,000 tons of rice or 26.5 million tons of corn, calculated with the wholesale price in the Northeast China region. 600 million yuan RMB of rice exported to Shinuiju from Dandong can purchase about 17.1 million tons of rice.

Old rice and flour is being gathered in Dandong from all over China, and is being sold to North Korea at a very low cost without ever entering the Chinese domestic market. The KBC report evaluates that this is a welcomed change because North Koreans are not selective about their food, since they do not have enough money to buy food. It reports, “Cheap food is considered the best food,” and “North Korean customs automatically allows the food to enter the country and small amounts of a few tons of food is not even tariffed,” said an unnamed North Korean trader.

China’s recent food aid to North Korea was conducted largely in two ways: First, it was provided quietly without the public being notified; second, it went via the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international organizations. According to the WFP China Office, the recent 600 million yuan food aid to North Korea was not related to WFP aid to North Korea.

China is careful about releasing information related to its food aid to North Korea. However, what is known is that the aid consists of selling food at a low-cost and through nongovernmental exchanges. There are several trading companies in Dandong that ships food and other materials to North Korea when charitable organizations in Beijing make the request for shipment.

On the other hand, the May 24 (2010) Measures (of South Korea) has suspended all trade between North and South Korea. This has propelled North Korea-China trade to expand and the trade volume between the two nations increased 32 percent or 1.9 billion USD from January to April, compared to the same period of the previous year, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

During this period, North Korea’s export to China recorded 793 million USD, which also jumped 33 percent against last year and the revenues from import also increased 32.8 percent equalling 1.16 billion USD.

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Chongjin facing impossible battle

Friday, May 25th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

Despite the fact that North Korea is currently in a period of mass mobilization for the agricultural planting season, North Hamkyung Province Party authorities are also pursuing a number of construction projects in and around Chongjin.

One of the plans calls for the construction of apartments for 10,000 Chongjin families after the fashion of the Mansudae area of Pyongyang, but local Party cadres and ordinary civilians see it mostly as an attempt by Provincial Party Chief Secretary Oh Su Yong to publicly display his loyalty to the regime of Kim Jong Eun.

A source from the city explained the story to Daily NK on the 24th, saying, “Most students and laborers have been mobilized for the farming support battle, yet in the middle of that the provincial Party is ordering the construction of apartments with more than 15 floors for 10,000 households in the Pohang district of Chongjin.”

“They are simultaneously doing large scale repairs in Pohang Square, constructing a coastal road and Youth Park, doing work on Chongjin Port and on a waste water purifying facility for Sunam Stream,” he added.

The construction has been entrusted to the city’s major construction enterprises, including 5.16 Construction Company, Ranam Combined Coal Mining and 6.2 Port Construction Industry. However, these do not have the financial capacity to purchase all the materials and equipment required, meaning that responsibility for providing sufficient gravel, sand and other basic items is being passed in part onto the local population.

“Households are being assigned the task of providing certain amounts of sand and gravel to certain construction sites,” the source explained. “People’s unit heads are going house to house every night pushing people to do their bit.”

“This whole thing is the result of the Party chief secretary wanting to show off his loyalty,” the source concluded.

Read the full story here:
Chongjin Facing Impossible Battle
DNK
Choi Song Min
2012-5-25

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DPRK experiencing annual spring food shortage

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

On the 22nd, North Korea handed down a ‘farming support battle mass mobilization order’ in the name of the Supreme Command of the Chosun People’s Army. The order commands the military to take the lead in the battle to increase food production.

At the same time, Rodong Shinmun ramped up the propaganda side on the 21st, publishing a couple of articles on agricultural topics including one about Yeokpyeong Cooperative Farm in Huicheon, Jagang Province entitled, ‘There Is Nothing You Cannot Do as Long as You Are Determined’.

However, sources in North Hamkyung Province confirm that neither the propaganda nor the orders from above reflect the difficult reality on the ground during the annual ‘spring hardship period’ which last until the early part of May. In effect, the North Korean authorities are calling for mass mobilization to secure the nation’s food supplies without ensuring food for those being mobilized.

According to one, “The spinach which we prepared for soup is already gone. There are now ‘side dish support teams’ out looking for wild plants and herbs for side dishes.”

To try and solve this problem in situ, anyone who is able to offer 50kg of rice or equivalent is handed a month of vacation time during the farm support period. If rations amount to 600g per day then a single worker will go through 24kg of rice or corn over the course of the 40-day mobilization period; thus, giving 50kg means taking responsibility for feeding two other people, and this is enough to get an exemption from labor for oneself.

However, when those able to give food and those out collecting food from the mountain-sides are combined, it means half the people who are meant to be supporting the farming work are not doing so directly. Not only that; according to the source, “The people left behind on the farms are in a lifeless state, so it’s pretty hard to get any work done.” They are very cynical, too, reportedly pointing out that they will gain strength by eating corn, not by yelling slogans.

Given that there are also cases of support workers stealing from nearby farmhouses, local people are said to be waiting for the day when the support workers will be allowed to leave.

Official controls have also been heightened for the support period. Weddings, funeral and ancestral rites are prohibited, and there is no travel permit issuance going on either. In addition, only immediate family members of deceased persons may move around locally.

Read the full story here:
50kg the Only Relief from Hardship Period
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2012-5-24

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DPRK 2012 drought compendium (UPDATED)

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Pictured above: South Hwanghae, the DPRK’s “rice bowl”

UPDATE 11 (2012-8-2): DPRK cuts official food rations. According to the Daily NK:

World Food Programme reports during the month of July, North Koreans received only half the amount of recommended food, rations have been reduced down to half what they should be 300 grams per day.

Between drought and flood damage, crops have suffered and the distribution system is failing to meet the needs of the people.

Due to unrelenting poor weather condition this past July, North Korean food rations per person, already at the minimum recommended amount, were cut in half.

United Nations affiliated organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded that from July 1st until the 15th, food distribution in North Korea was 370 grams per person per day, but during the second half of the month rations were reduced to a mere 300 grams, revealed a Voice of America broadcast two days ago. The World Food Programme puts the recommended amount of food per day at 600 grams minimum.

According to a North Korean based-WFP local official, rations consist of 20-30% rice and 70-80% corn. During the summer, barley, potatoes, wheat and other crops are included in the distribution.

From January until March, rations were maintained at 395 grams per person, and in April they were increased to 400 grams. In May, rations were reverted back to 395 grams and June again saw a slump, down to 380 grams per person.

The WFP attributes the decline in rations to various natural disasters, such as drought and flooding have led to extensive damage of cropland across North Korea.

The WFP estimates these ration shortages will continue to be severe until harvest time arrives in November.

The flip side of this story is that North Koreans obtain the majority of their food from private and black markets.

The Daily NK tracks rice prices in the DPRK here.

Read the full story here:
WFP Reports July Rations Cut in Half at NK
Daily NK
Kim Tae-hong
2012-8-2

UPDATE 10 (2012-6-21): Although the drought was initially reported in North Hwanghae Province, the shortage of water is causing additional problems (electricity generation) in other parts of the country. According to the Daily NK:

The source believes that it is primarily the failure of the newly completed hydroelectric power station at Heecheon in Jagang Province to reach official expectations that is causing the problem. It has been known for some time that water levels behind the dam at Heecheon are insufficient to meet electricity generation targets.

However, there are other reasons for the current state of affairs, notably events for the 10t0th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and the period of mass mobilization for farming.

According to the source, “Because they wanted it for the April events, most of the electricity coming to Pyongyang went to the Mansudae and Central districts, while the places where most people actually live didn’t get regular supplies. Then in May they started sending most of it to cooperative farms in North Hwanghae Province for the mass farming mobilization.”

Currently, residential areas of the capital are receiving electricity two or three times a day for an hour or two at a time, meaning anything from three to five hours of power per day.

UPDATE 9 (2012-6-19): Yonhap reports that Seoul believes the drought’s effects on food production are not as serious as others claim:

Food shortages in North Korea do not seem to be as serious as expected while the country grapples with a months-long drought, Seoul’s foreign ministry said Tuesday, in a blunt assessment that contradicts warnings from United Nations agencies.

Poverty-stricken North Korea appears to face another bleak year with its farm industry hit by an unusually long drought, particularly in the western areas, the North’s state media recently reported, raising concern it could exacerbate its food shortages.

Asked whether South Korea will consider resuming its state food aid to the North if the drought further worsens, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae replied, “Our general assessment is that (the North’s food situation) is not so serious as to fall into a level of crisis.”

“At present, no plan is in the offing with regard to government-level food assistance to North Korea,” Cho said.

Last week, U.N. agencies operating inside North Korea reported that millions of North Korean people are suffering from chronic food shortages and dire health care, appealing for the world to raise funds to provide food to the impoverished state.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Friday that the North’s key breadbasket areas including North Hwanghae Province have been hit by an unprecedented drought.

KCNA added that “crops are withering” due to the most serious drought in 60 years.

The North’s defiant launch of a long-range rocket in April blew up a Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. under which Pyongyang would freeze nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.

New leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to the people this year. A bad harvest could deal a blow to his regime as he tries to consolidate his grip on power.

The North has relied on outside food aid to feed its population of 24 million since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

South Korea halted its unconditional state aid to the North in 2008, by linking food aid to progress on Pyongyang’s nuclear dismantlement. But Seoul has continued to selectively approve humanitarian and medical assistance to Pyongyang from religious and private aid groups.

The DPRK has yet to formally request any food assistance following the announcement of the drought.

UPDATE 8 (2012-6-5): According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea is reporting serious drought. North Korea has had over 40 days of dry weather (as of the end of May) and 40 percent of cropland was reportedly damaged from the drought. The west coastal areas were hit the hardest, allegedly the worst drought in fifty years, according the Hydro-meteorological Service of the DPRK. The month of June is also anticipated to be dry without much rainfall, which will likely worsen the already critical food shortage problem in North Korea.

The KCNA released an article on May 24 with a statement from Choe Hyon Su, department director of the Ministry of Agriculture: “West coastal and other areas excluding north mountain areas are suffering damages from forty days of dry weather until today (May 24), and 40 percent of our farmlands are experiencing damages from the drought.”

The extreme drought conditions are expected to intensify until June and cabbages, corn seedlings, and other grains are drying out in the parched and cracked fields. An all-people campaign to overcome the drought situation is currently on-going in the country. Bureaucrats and workers have been mobilized to irrigate farms and ordered to take other necessary measures to prevent further drought damage, state media reported.

In addition, the KCNA reported on May 26 that Choe Yong Rim,the Premier of the DPRK, visited Saenal Farm in Sinchon County and Oguk Co-op Farm in Anak County, South Hwanghae Province to survey the farming situation.

The premier reportedly “highlighted the importance of settling the food shortage in building a thriving nation and called on all officials and other agricultural workers to play their role as those responsible for the nation’s agricultural production.” He also stressed the “need to meet technological requirements for harrowing and winding up the rice-transplanting in [the] right season.”

Furthermore, Choson Sinbo reported on April 24 that North Korea is raising efforts to solve the food shortage problem through increasing fertilizer production and succeeded in “coal gasification,” which is North Korea’s own fertilizer production process.

The process converts coal from a solid to a gaseous state that is similar to natural gas, and can be converted to ammonia that is used to make fertilizer. North Korea has rich deposits of coal and would otherwise have to import natural gas for fertilizer production. However, Namhung Youth Chemical Complex succeeded in its coal gasification process, turning coal to hydrogen gas.

In addition, Hungnam Fertilizer Complex is reported to have succeeded in its brown coal gasification process. The fertilizer production goal for this year from these two facilities is set at 1 million tons, the news reported.

North Korea has widely publicized fertilizer produced by coal as “Juche fertilizer.” North Korea continues to endorse that fertilizer produced from the gasification of coal will serve as a major pillar in building a strong nation along with “Juche steel,” and “Juche textile.”

UPDATE 7 (2012-5-29): According to the Korea Herald:

In at least one area of South Pyongan Province where journalists from the Associated Press were allowed to visit, the sun-baked fields appeared parched and cracked, and farmers complained of extreme drought conditions. Deeply tanned men, and women in sun bonnets, worked over cabbages and corn seedlings. Farmers cupped individual seedlings as they poured water from blue buckets onto the parched red soil.

“I’ve been working at the farm for more than 30 years, but I have never experienced this kind of severe drought,” An Song Min, a farmer at the Tokhae Cooperative Farm in the Nampo area, told the AP.

It was not clear whether the conditions around Nampo were representative of a wider region. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said it had not yet visited the affected regions to confirm the extent and severity of the reported drought.

North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages for the past two decades because of economic and agricultural mismanagement as well as natural disasters. A famine in the 1990s killed an estimated hundreds of thousands of people.

North Korea state media has publicized the drought but hasn’t asked for international handouts. The country’s past appeals for food aid have been met with some skepticism, however, amid worries that aid would be diverted to the military and Pyongyang elite without reaching the hungry.

You can see a satellite image of Tokhae Cooperative Farm here (Googler Earth:  38.786605°, 125.468135°).

UPDATE 6 (2012-5-27): According to Yonhap:

N. Korea steps up fight against drought

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) — North Korea is stepping up its fight against drought as a prolonged dry spell in the rice-planting season could deal a blow to food production and negatively impact the rule of the its new young leader.

The impoverished nation’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, state television and other media outlets are urging citizens to utilize every possible source of water to irrigate rice paddies, while also offering advice on how to help other crops overcome drought.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Friday that western regions of the North have received little rain for a month since April 26. If no rain falls by the end of the month, it will be the driest May for most western regions of the nation since 1962, the agency said.

KCNA reported Saturday that many people have been mobilized across the nation to minimize damage from the drought and that the cabinet and the agriculture ministry are putting together emergency measures.

The North’s premier, Choe Yong-rim, visited farms in the western Hwanghae Province on Saturday to check the situation, KCNA said. Choe was quoted as urging farmers to finish rice planting successfully, saying resolving food problems is one of the country’s most important issues.

New leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to the people this year. A bad harvest could deal a blow to his regime as he tries to consolidate his grip on power.

The North has relied on outside food aid to feed its 24-million population since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

UPDATE 5 (2012-5-26): According to KCNA:

Koreans Are Out to Fight Drought

Pyongyang, May 26 (KCNA) — Officials and working people across the country are all out to prevent damage by drought.

The Cabinet and the Ministry of Agriculture took emergency measures to prevent the drought-related damage and all sectors and units are meticulously carrying out organizational and political work to fight drought in a massive manner.

Rural areas are pushing ahead with the work to repair and readjust wells, pools and tube-wells, keep water-pumping and dry-field irrigation equipment in full-capacity operation and irrigate all fields with water collected through damming and digging of river-beds.

North Phyongan and Hwanghae provinces are making good use of existing irrigation system while watering the fields prone to drought damage after finishing the repair of pools, tube-wells, etc.

Jongju, Sariwon, Thaechon, Ryongchon, Pongsan and other cities and counties are concentrating labor power on watering the drought-hit fields of corn, potato, wheat and barley first.

Working people and supporters in South Hwanghae and Phyongan provinces are watering lots of fields every day.

Rural farms in Nampho City and Kangwon and South Hamgyong provinces are successfully watering fields by organizing labor forces to suit to their specific conditions and making an effective use of water resources.

The rural farms near Pyongyang are watering the fields through diverse methods including furrow and water-sprinkling irrigation systems after readjusting irrigation facilities.

All rural farms are frequently weeding and ploughing as required by technical regulations in order to keep soil moist, while applying amino acid compound fertilizer and humate good for resisting drought.

UPDATE 4 (2012-5-26): According to KCNA:

Drought Persists in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 26 (KCNA) — West coastal areas of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea experience a long spell of dry weather. This is an abnormal phenomenon witnessed in the country in fifty years, according to a report of the Hydro-meteorological Service.

There have been few rainfalls for nearly 30 days in those areas since April 26.

Ri Kyong Ho (39), a farmer, saying,

“Only twenty days has passed since we transplanted humus-potted maize. Due to an unusual drought this year, maize is getting dry, as you can see here. We are doing our best to overcome this long spell of drought.”

Pang Sun Nyo (48), chief of Weather Forecast Office of the Hydro-meteorological Service, saying,

“Most areas of the country, especially the western areas, are in the grip of long drought.

There have been few rainfalls for 25 days since April 27. Although it rained a little, it was not enough to overcome drought.

Starting from April 30, the country experienced the highest daytime temperature. The temperature began to lower a little than an average year from mid-May but has gone up since May 18.

The average evaporation loss is 4 to 8 mm and the humidity of land 60 percent at present.

This abnormal weather phenomenon is mainly due to flow of dry and warm air current into the country from the continents on middle latitudes and the south, which prevents cold air current from the north to the south.

The drought is foreseen to persist until the end of May, affected by high air pressure from the south and East Sea of Korea.”

UPDATE 3 (2012-5-25): According to KCNA:

Long Drought in West Coastal Areas of DPRK

Pyongyang, May 25 (KCNA) — West coastal areas of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea experience a long spell of dry weather. This is an abnormal phenomenon witnessed in the country in fifty years, according to a report of the Hydro-meteorological Service.

There have been few rainfalls for about 30 days since April 26.

In this period rainfall was registered 2 mm in Pyongyang, 5 mm in Haeju City, 4 mm in Phyongsong City, 1 mm in Sinuiju City and 0 mm in Sariwon City.

The average evaporation loss is 4 to 8 mm and the humidity of land 60 percent at present.

In case there is no rain until the end of this month, the precipitation of May in the west coastal areas would be registered as the lowest from 1962 downward.

The humidity of land stands at 55 percent and the drought is expected to get more serious.

An all-people campaign for overcoming drought is now going on in the country.

UPDATE 2 (2012-5-22): According to the Daily NK:

There is a growing volume of testimony to suggest that food insecurity in Hwanghae Province is now particularly bad, and in a significant number of areas has tipped over into starvation and death. Much of the evidence for this has been published since May 7th by ASIAPRESS, a Japanese group with video journalists working inside North Korea.

Example interviews published in Korean by ASIAPRESS include a woman in her 40s from South Hwanghae Province who claimed that for her the “situation is more difficult than during the ‘March of Tribulation’,” referring to the famine that killed many hundres of thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s.

“The food situation is worse than it was three years ago,” the woman went on. “The waiting room at the station in Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province is overflowing with beggar children, both boys and girls, younger and older.”

A man in his 30s from South Hwanghae Province also testified similarly, saying that “Malnutrition is getting more prevalent for farmers. The farming is going really badly.”

Another witness, from North Hamkyung Province but with experience of visiting Hwanghae, claimed, “I heard from a Hwanghae Province resident that people dead from starvation are appearing in Haeju every day. It is surprising that something like this can happen in the ‘rice region’; by this standard it seems that the situation in North Hamkyung is actually not that bad.”

ASIAPRESS believes the main causes of the extreme food insecurity in the region to be: ▲ decreased food production due to flooding; ▲ food procurement for Day of the Sun events in other areas, mostly Pyongyang; and additional ▲ market stagnation.

In other words, the testimonies obtained by ASIAPRESS suggest in particular that the authorities have been demanding excessive volumes of food from farms while failing to revive flooded farmland. In essence, food production has decreased but food procurement and removal to other regions has risen.

One farmer from South Hwanghae Province commented, “The floods last year washed away most of the fields in coastal areas. In early spring productivity was particularly bad, because rain hit when the flowers were blooming. In addition, productivity was reduced because we couldn’t get fertilizer and water supplies were dodgy because there was little electricity.”

Commenting on his organization’s major findings, Director Jiro Ishimaru concluded, “The cause of the food crisis in Hwanghae Province cannot be put down to an agricultural slump, but to the exploitation and excessive procurement of the authorities. The reason for the food crisis is man-made.”

UPDATE 1 (2012-5-21): According to KCNA:

Western Area Experiences Drought in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 21 (KCNA) — There has been few rainfalls in the western area of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since April 26.

Most parts of the country, except Ryanggang and Jagang provinces, witnessed a small amount of rainfalls on May 13-14, with no effect on the drought.

Starting from late April, the country experienced the highest daytime temperature. The temperature began to lower a little than an average year from mid-May but has gone up since May 18.

The high temperature has made the rate of overall soil humidity remain under 65 percent.

Water level of the country’s major irrigation reservoirs stands at 55.4 percent on an average. Water storage in Lake Kumsong in South Phyongan Province dropped even to 0.5 percent, in particular.

Affected by alternate high and low pressures, rainfalls are believed to be usual in springs in Korea.

But, in this spring cold air, which should have come towards the south, continues to stay in the north while the warm and dried air persistently come from continents on middle latitudes, causing a long-time drought in Korea.

Such an atmospheric phenomenon is said to last until early June only to cause drought.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-5-11): According to KCNA:

DPRK Experiences High-temperature Weather

Pyongyang, May 11 (KCNA) — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been experiencing exceptionally high temperature weather.

From April 30 to May 9, daytime temperatures hit the record high, with 27 degrees Celsius in Pyongyang, 26.6 in Phyongsong, 27.4 in Sariwon, 26.7 in Haeju, 26.9 in Kaesong and 22. 2 in Nampho.

The high temperatures were believed to be caused by the increased high pressure in the sky above the southern area, which prevented the inflow of cold air from the north.

There have been few rainfalls in the western coastal area of the country.

Until mid-May, the country’s weather will be affected mainly by the high pressure in the southern area and in the Okhotsk.

Thereby, the daytime temperatures are forecast to be higher than the average ones in most parts of the country, except the eastern coastal area, with a small amount of precipitation.

Drought is likely to come to the western coastal area.

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