Archive for the ‘Agriculture statistics’ Category

A particularly good year for North Korean harvests? Not thanks to the state, says one citizen

Friday, November 27th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

The flurry of divergent messages on North Korea’s food situation continues. While multilateral agencies have warned that this year’s food deficit might be particularly bad, news from inside North Korea tell a different story. The Daily NK reports that citizens speak of a particularly good harvest this year, despite the drought:

On the 24th, a Daily NK reporter spoke with a source in Yanggang Province, who informed us that although the Rodong Sinmun has been urging citizens and the nation on a daily basis to work hard to restore the damage that resulted from the tempestuous weather earlier in the year, so far there are no reports of lower-than-average rice harvest numbers.

An additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported the same trend in his region.

Small plot farmers have been particularly attentive to ensuring that their crops received adequate water supplies, with many using hand or motorized water pumps and water turbines for irrigation. “Some people are even saying that as a result of the careful attention paid by these farmers to protect their crops from the weather, this year’s rice harvest is looking better than average,” he said.

But it isn’t economic reforms by the state that is causing the bumper harvest, the article says. It’s hardly a shocker that people don’t trust the North Korean government too much:

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

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

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


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

Monday, September 28th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

This is interesting for several reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bank of Korea on the DPRK’s economic performance in 2014

Friday, July 17th, 2015

The Bank of Korea has published its annual assessment of the North Korean economy. The report on economic performance in 2014 can be downloaded here (PDF).  Previous years’ reports can be downloaded from my economic statistics page.

The report claims that the DPRK’s GDP increased by 1% in 2014. Nominal GNI was valued at 34.2 trillion KRW, (2.3% of South Korea). GNI per capita stood at 1.388 million KRW, (4.7% of South Korea).

Growth a number of industries was positive, but had fallen from 2013 rates. Among these industries were mining, as wells as agriculture, forestry, and fishing (combined) and heavy industry and chemical industry (combined).  Growth in light industry was higher than in 2013 as was electricity, gas and water (combined) and services. The biggest annual turnaround came in the construction industry, which saw a growth rate of 1.4% following a -1% fall in 2013.

The volume of North Korea’s external trade (sum of exports and imports of goods, excluding inter-Korean trade) amounted to $7.61 billion dollars in 2014 (up $0.27b from 2013). Exports totaled $3.16 billion (down 1.7% from 2013). Imports totaled $4.45 billion (up 7.8% from 2013).

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

North Korea’s economic growth is estimated to have slowed last year from a year earlier as its staple primary industries posted tepid performances, data showed Friday.

The North’s economy is projected to have expanded 1 percent in 2014, decelerating from the 1.1 percent on-year growth in the previous year, according to the data compiled by South Korea’s central bank, the Bank of Korea (BOK).

It has posted economic expansions for four years in a row since it contracted 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The BOK explained that the North’s construction sector lent support to the overall growth, bouncing back to a 1.4 percent on-year growth last year from a 1 percent fall the previous year.

Pyongyang’s agricultural and fishery industry, which accounts for 21.8 percent of its total output, expanded 1.2 percent last year, slowing from 1.9 percent growth in 2013.

Growth in its mining and manufacturing sector, which accounts for 34.4 percent of overall output, gained 1.1 percent, down from 1.5 percent a year earlier.

The data, meanwhile, showed that North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) came in at 34.2 trillion won (US$29.8 billion) last year, which is roughly 2.3 percent of South Korea’s 2014 GNI of 1,496.6 trillion won.

Since 1991, the BOK has been releasing the growth estimate of the North based on data provided by Seoul’s intelligence agency and other institutions specializing in North Korean studies.

Here is coverage in Bloomberg (with carts!).


Economic gap between Koreas grew in 2013

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The economic gap between South and North Korea widened in 2013 with the difference in their trade volumes remaining far apart, data showed Tuesday.

According to the data from Statistics Korea, North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) came to 33.84 trillion won (US$30.87 billion) in 2013 with that of the South coming to 1.44 quadrillion won, or 42.6 times larger.

In 2012, South Korea’s GNI was 38.2 times larger than the North’s.

On a per-capita basis, South Korea’s GNI came to 28.7 million won, 20.8 times that of North Korea.

As of the end of 2013, South Korea had a total population of 50.22 million compared to the North’s 24.54 million, according to the data.

South Korea also continued to greatly outperform the communist North in trade.

In 2013, South Korea’s overall trade volume came to about $1.07 trillion, 146 times larger than North Korea’s $7.3 billion.

South Korea’s overall rice production came to 4.23 million tons, while the North produced about 2.1 million tons.

The two Koreas also showed significant gaps in social infrastructure.

South Korea’s road network totaled 106,414 kilometers, compared with the North’s 26,114 kilometers.

The statistics office has been publishing general information on the North since 1995 as a way of providing an insight to the economic and social conditions of the reclusive country.

Additional reporting here.

Read the full story here:
Economic gap between two Koreas widens in 2013: data


Sharp increase in grain imports from China in second half of 2014

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It appears that North Korea has drastically increased Chinese grain imports in the months of July and August compared to the first half of 2014. Up until June, North Korea had imported a total of 58,387 tons of grain from China at nearly 10,000 tons per month. However, in July and August, North Korea imported 19,559 tons and 25,217 tons of grain, respectively. August showed the largest amount of grains imported per month so far this year, and the combined figures of July and August are equal to an astonishing 77 percent of the total amount of grains imported in the first six months of 2014.

The large increase in grain imports beginning in July is interpreted as an early move by North Korea to secure grain supplies for the winter after a double-crop harvest in June which failed to reach expected quantities, and a lackluster fall harvest compared to the previous year.

The grains North Korea has imported so far this year consist of flour (46.6 percent), rice (42.3 percent), and corn (8.9 percent), with flour and rice being the main imports. Compared to 2013, corn imports are down, but have been replaced by an increase in rice imports. Despite the sharp increase in grain imports during recent months, it appears that the overall food situation in North Korea has actually improved. North Korea imported a total of 103,163 tons of grain from January to August of 2014, a mere 59 percent of the 174,020 tons of grain imported during the same time period last year.

Chemical fertilizer imported from China up until August of this year has also decreased by an estimated 37 percent compared to the previous year, from 183,639 tons to 115,337 tons. This decrease in imported fertilizer is thought to be due to improvements made in fertilization equipment, leading to an overall higher rate of operation. It appears that the total amount of fertilizer used by North Korea this year should not differ greatly from the amount used last year, and fertilizer shortage is not expected to cause a major decrease in grain production.


ROK agricultural assistance heads to DPRK

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The Hankyoreh reports on some agricultural aid heading to the DPRK:


Picture above via the Hanhyoreh

The article reports:

Trucks carrying materials for greenhouses, fertilized soil and plant seeds for North Korea crosses Unification Bridge in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 30. The 200 million won worth of goods were donated by Ace Gyeongnam.

Greenhouses have been constructed all across the DPRK in the last few years.


Hillside farming

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The US State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit put out the following map of hillside farming in the DPRK.


Click image for larger (PDF) version.


DPRK rice imports from China increase

Monday, August 25th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea bought US$7.02 million worth of rice from the neighboring country last month, up 115 percent from $3.27 million a year earlier, according to Chinese trade data from the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association.

The amount also represents an on-month increase of 53 percent from $4.57 million.

The sudden increase in imports comes amid reports that the price of rice has risen sharply in the North.

According to the South Korean online newspaper DailyNK on Aug. 12, rice cost 5,800 won per kilogram in Pyongyang, up 1,550 won from the middle of July.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s imports of Chinese rice more than double


Food imports from China fall in 2014

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s grain imports from China tumbled more than 50 percent on-year in the first half of this year, data showed Wednesday, amid speculation that relations between the communist allies are not like before.

North Korea imported 58,387 tons of cereal crops from China in the January-June period, down 53 percent from 124,228 tons recorded a year earlier, according to the data by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

By type, flour topped the list with 40,142 tons, or 68.8 percent, followed by rice and corn with 13,831 tons and 3,420 tons, respectively, added the Seoul-based agency.

Analysts say the remarkable decrease may be attributable to reportedly strained ties between the two sides in recent months.

“Of late, North Korea has appeared to move to reduce its economic dependence on China and diversify its foreign economic partners,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

Kwon Tae-jin, researcher at private think tank GS&J, said it might have been more affected by Pyongyang’s increased crop yield.

“North Korea’s stockpile of crops seems to have grown due to a good harvest last year.

Meanwhile, China’s fertilizer exports to North Korea also plunged 21.3 percent to 109,531 tons during the January-June period this year from a year earlier, said KITA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s grain imports from China halve in H1