Despite an improved harvest in North Korea, the country will enter 1999 with a large food deficit and will need to import 1.35 million tonnes of food grain, including 1.05 million tonnes as food assistance to meet the minimum nutritional requirements of the population, according to a joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The report, based on the findings of a crop and food supply assessment mission that toured the country extensively last month, forecasts North Korea’s cereal production for 1998/99 at 3.5 million tonnes, some 30 percent higher than last year’s severely reduced crop.

But this harvest is only enough to cover minimum consumption needs for eight months. Apart from foreign exchange constraints that limit commercial imports, the general economic decline in the country and natural disasters have seriously compromised national food security.

“The food situation in DPR Korea (North Korea) remains precarious and the country urgently needs to address the underlying problems in the economy and agriculture if it is to avert serious problems in the future,” said the assessment team leader Mr. Abdur Rashid.

The report recommends that out of the 1.05 million tonnes of food aid needed, some 480,000 tonnes be targeted mostly to children, hospital patients and pregnant and nursing women. The remaining cereal shortfall of 574,000 tonnes will be needed to help the general population meet its minimum needs.

The report calls for immediate attention to be “focused on improving agricultural input supplies, mainly fertilisers, spare parts and fuel” to “enable the country to produce enough food to meet its minimum needs.”

“It is imperative that the international assistance to agriculture be increased substantially from its current low levels,” the report said, because “future food security in DPR Korea (North Korea) will crucially depend on solutions that address the major economic difficulties. In the absence of these, even without natural hazards, the food supply situation will remain highly precarious as the productivity in agriculture falls and the capacity of the country to finance commercial food imports dwindles and barter trade becomes a progressively less viable option.”

“Despite favourable weather this year, food production has not recovered sufficiently enough to avert serious food shortages,” said WFP’s Senior Program Coordinator for North Korea, Mr. Saeed Malik, adding, “The food crisis has been compounded by a complete run-down of the country’s economy.”

The natural disasters that struck North Korea from 1995 to 1997, including two years of flooding followed by serious drought and a typhoon, aggravated the underlying structural problems of the economy. The situation worsened further with the loss of favourable economic ties with the former USSR and other centrally planned economies in eastern Europe which had provided North Korea with large amounts of aid and trade benefits.

Today, the agriculture sector faces a lack of spare parts for broken machinery, shortages of fuel, irrigation difficulties and a shortage of pesticides. But, the shortage of fertiliser is the most serious problem for domestic food production, according to the report. North Korea’s three fertiliser factories have a total capacity of over 400,000 tonnes of nitrogen nutrient which could be enough for self-sufficiency, but the factories are obsolete, poorly maintained and face shortages of spate parts and raw materials, mainly fuel, causing fertiliser availability for 1998 to dwindle.

“The capacity of North Korea to provide adequate food for its population is constrained by the shortage of agricultural inputs such a fuel and fertiliser needed to produce food domestically and the reduced capacity of the economy to supplement domestic food production through commercial imports,” said the report, adding: “Food security in the country critically depends on general economic performance and the efforts to increase domestic food production.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

· Rehabilitation and development of the irrigation system and improved water management;

· Crop diversification to enhance soil productivity and reduce risk of crop losses in any one year due to adverse weather conditions;

· Research into effective crop rotation schemes including legumes to promote soil fertility and productivity; and,

· Research on seed improvement, and early and short-maturing and less chemical fertiliser dependent crop varieties.

· In the context of these recommendations, the UN Development Programme-led Round Table in support of Agricultural Recovery and Environmental Protection is an important initiative towards a strategic approach.


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