2010 DPRK grain production estimates inconsistent

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-02-07

Evaluations of North Korea’s grain output for 2010, and predictions for 2011, varied considerably between international organizations and South Korean agricultural experts. A recent report from the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) evaluating North Korea’s economy for 2010 and examining the outlook for 2011 revealed that the World Food Program (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated a 3.1 percent growth in North Korea’s 2010 grain production over the previous year, at 5.53 million tons. Based on this estimate, the two international organizations stated, “Because North Korea used more fertilizer than in the previous year, and an improved fuel situation [allowed] the use of more agricultural equipment, harvest conditions have improved.”

These international organizations believe that North Korea’s 24.43 million residents need an annual total of 5.35 million tons of grain, estimating that 4.25 tons (148kg per person) are needed for food while an additional 1.1 million tons are needed to seed future crops, for use in industrial manufacturing, and for livestock feed. Therefore, it was predicted that North Korea’s domestic production will fall 870,000 tons short in 2011. Since Pyongyang is expected to be able to import 330,000 tons of grain this year, it will be left with a 540,000 ton grain deficit.

On the other hand, the (South) Korea Rural Economic Institute and experts from other South Korean agricultural research institutions believe that unfavorable weather conditions in 2010, just like those seen in the South, as well as flooding in North Korea meant that grain production fell off last year, especially since the adverse weather and low temperatures struck during prime growing seasons. Therefore, South Korean agricultural experts estimate that North Korean grain production for 2010 was about 200,000 tons less than the year prior. Increased fertilizer distribution accounted for an additional 100,000 tons, but the damage from flooding cost the North the same in crops, and the shortage of assistance meant an additional 200,000 ton shortage.

South Korea’s Rural Development Association estimates North Korea’s 2009/2010 crop yield at 4.11 million tons, and predicts the 2010/2011 yield will drop to 3.9 million tons. South Korean experts also predict that even with international aid and continuing private-sector grain exports to North Korea, Pyongyang will fall 1 million tons short of grain this year. Not only that, the chances that the North’s grain situation will grow even more severe are significant. Rising international grain prices will heavily burden Pyongyang, and while food prices in North Korea’s traditional markets appear stable following the fall harvest, they have risen steadily, and as the lean season approaches, there is a high likelihood that prices will skyrocket soon.

KINU predicts that if there isn’t any significant domestic political upheaval or any serious clashes with other countries in 2011, North Korea’s industrial sector may be able to boost production. As long as international sanctions continue to be enforced against North Korea, Pyongyang’s reliance on China will continue, but that the forced efforts at self-sufficiency and indigenous development are unsustainable.


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