UN food agencies say continued poor food production has trapped North Korea in a vicious circle of poor nutrition


The nutritional situation in North Korea remains fragile in spite of the country’s efforts to redress chronic food problems, United Nations food agencies said today in their latest comprehensive food assessment report.

“Given the scale of the problem and its root causes, future food supply prospects are almost entirely contingent on international food and rehabilitation assistance, economic growth and the ability of the country to integrate itself into the global economy,” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report on their recent joint mission to North Korea.

“Failing these requisites, food availability and health and nutritional standards will continue to fall markedly,”

Living standards in North Korea have significantly declined in the last four years as the availability of food per person has shrunk, while serious health problems have increased because resources, drugs and essential supplies are unavailable. A vicious circle of poor nutrition compounding poor health and vice versa has become deeply entrenched, the report said.

“Widespread starvation has only been averted by concerted national efforts and the unprecedented volume of humanitarian food assistance provided by the international community,” according to the report.

The mission, which visited North Korea 9-19 October, said the food supply situation “will remain precarious over the next 12 months despite some improvement in rice production this year, due principally to increased fertiliser use, adequate irrigation supplies and the absence of serious pest and disease attacks.”

However, the report cautioned, the gains in rice production were more than offset by the reduction in maize output as the area cultivated fell sharply.

Based on population figures provided by North Korea’s government, grain demand for food and other uses for 1999/2000 is said to be 4.76 million tonnes. This leaves a deficit of about 1.29 million tonnes, of which the government is expected to import 300,000 tonnes commercially. A further 370,000 tonnes is covered by food aid imports in the pipeline, leaving 623,000 tonnes of grain that will need to come through assistance programmes. The food deficit has not significantly changed since the last year’s FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to North Korea.

According to the FAO/WFP report, there are signs that economic sanctions on North Korea by leading industrialized countries may be further relaxed, which could lead to recovery in the economy and rehabilitation in agriculture. “This inevitably will have a significant and positive impact on sustainable food security.”


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