Archive for the ‘2011 food shortage debate’ Category

USDA publishes “International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24”

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

You can download the full report here (PDF).

Below are some comments and data on North Korea from the report:

“After Afghanistan, North Korea has been the most persistently food insecure country in the region as grain output stagnated from 1995 until 2010. Only recently has some growth been exhibited. In 2014, 70 percent of the population is estimated to be food insecure; this is projected to decline to 40 percent in 2024. Since grain production growth is projected to remain low—around 1 percent per year—during that time, the improvement is driven primarily by low projected population growth of  0.4 percent per year.”

And this table:





There is additional data in the report. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.


North Korean high-ranking official visits Taiwan

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

A high ranking North Korean official visiting Taiwan gave a statement that, “North Korea is using most of its resources for national defense and military.”

This was revealed in a report released by KOTRA Taiwan Trade Mission. In this report, Kim Jong Gi, the chairman of the Committee for the Promotion of International Tradeof DPRK visited the Taiwan-(North) Korea Business Association to attend a meeting discussing North Korean business trade.

Kim criticized South Korea, Japan and other neighboring countries for harboring antagonistic attitudes toward communist North Korea, and especially the United States for enforcing “violent sanctions” against North Korea.

He also admitted the country was suffering from economic hardships and food shortages since 1995 with four years of continuous natural disasters. In 2011, the total food needed is around 6.5 million tons but the actual production output was only 5.1 million tons, leaving the country 1.4 million tons short.

Kim also explained that North Korea experienced similar economic growth as South Korea and Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s but as socialist countries began to collapse one after another in the early 1990s, North Korea’s economic trade agreements with other nations became null and hence hindered its economy and trade.

At that time, North Korea was signing purchase agreements on magnesium oxide (about 800,000 ton) with Eastern European countries every year and barter trade with other socialist nations. But with the fall of socialist countries, North Korea quickly lost its long-term trading partners and it failed to take appropriate and necessary actions. Thus, it fell into the vicious cycle of unsold commodities with insufficient funds, leading to inevitable economic downturn.

Kim was the highest official from the DPRK to visit Taiwan. The purpose for his visit was to 1) attract investment from Taiwan for Hwanggumpyong Island and Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone, and 2) express gratitude toward the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity for continuous assistance to North Korea. The Tzu Chi Foundation is reported to have sent aid to North Korea nine times.


WFP to [not to] extend emergency mission to DPRK

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

UPDATE 1 (2012-2-24): The Choson Ilbo reports that the UN WFP is not extending its DPRK mission. According to the article:

The World Food Programme plans to end its emergency aid mission to North Korea in March as originally scheduled.

Citing officials from the WFP, Radio Free Asia reported Thursday that its emergency operation for the most vulnerable groups in the North, including children, pregnant women and the elderly, will end next month.

The organization said once the emergency program is over it will switch back to its smaller-scale assistance program, which provides food to roughly 3.5 million women and children in need of immediate nutritional support.

Meanwhile, the report added that the UN-affiliated organization had only raised about 30 percent of the funds needed to support North Koreans as of Wednesday.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-2-22): According to the Korea Herald:

The U.N. World Food Programme is planning to extend its Emergency Aid mission to North Korea beyond the original deadline of March.

The Emergency Operation, which started in April, aimed to address a dangerous and worsening food crisis in North Korea. It focused on the most vulnerable groups, women and children, of which there were 3.5 million in need of immediate support to prevent starvation.

The WFP has been able to work with North Korea in carrying out the operation, under very stringent rules.

Although the WFP has experienced some successes, a difficult 2011 has meant that the mission was unable to fully address the growing crisis, and an extension of the emergency operation is needed.

“We are currently finalizing plans for the operation beyond this point, but it will certainly continue to focus on the provision of nutritional assistance to the most vulnerable women and children,” WFP Asia spokesman Marcus Prior said.

Despite making progress in the latter stages of 2011, the WFP was unable to fulfill the goals of the original mission.

“Because of relatively slow funding at the outset, and the time taken to purchase and ship the food to the DPRK, distributions were at a very low level through the lean season months of May to August,” Prior said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

“At one point in the middle of 2011, production of specialized nutritious foods at factories supported by WFP came to an almost complete standstill,” said Prior. WFP documents say that during that time “much of the population of DPRK suffered prolonged food deprivation.”

The WFP says there is a “chronic gap” between the daily nutrients needed and the nutrients North Koreans have access to, with the situation more crucial for women and children.

Recent studies have shown that malnutrition in the first 1,000 days from conception can have permanent consequences for both physiological and intellectual development.

With a recent U.N. estimate that one-third of North Korea’s children under 5 are malnourished, the continuing crisis could have catastrophic implications on their future and not just their immediate food needs.

The WFP also reported through interviews with health officials that there was a 50 to 100 percent increase in the admissions of malnourished children into pediatric wards compared to last year.

The latest WFP DPRK report has called for more international aid that will be needed for the continued efforts, as the food from the original mission begins to reach its limits.

“We continue to have supplies available to see us through the next three to four months, but will require significant new funding to ensure these distributions can continue through the later, most difficult, lean season months of this year.”

Although the WFP does not collect data on the death toll caused by the 2011 food shortage, the latest report did say that another year of the same prolonged food deprivation will have a serious impact on the North Korean population.

My compendium of DPRK food stories in 2011 is here.

Read the full story here:
WFP to extend emergency mission to North Korea
Korea Herald
Hamish Macdonald


Kim Jong-un’s January 2012

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

UPDATE 1: Luke Herman provides some additional infomration here.

ORIGINAL PSOT: January has been quite interesting for DPRK watchers as we are seeing the steps taken to establish the legitimacy of Kim Jong-un. Below I have cataloged some visible components of this process:

Kim Jong-un’s “on the spot guidance” (OSG):

Kim Jong-un began the year with a visit to Kumsusan palace to pay respects to president Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il. The political and cultural symbolism speaks for itself.

Kim Jong-un’s second guidance trip (reported on the same day) was reportedly to the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division. This visit is symbolically important because it was on a guidance trip to this very same division that (according to the North Korean narrative) Kim Jong-il began his “Songun” (Military First) leadership.  According to KCNA (2010-8-24):

An oath-taking meeting of servicepersons of the three services of the Korean People’s Army took place at the Ssangun-ri Revolutionary Site in Sukchon County, South Phyongan Province, on Tuesday on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il’s start of the Songun revolutionary leadership.

The reporter and speakers at the meeting recalled that Kim Jong Il started the Songun revolutionary leadership by providing field guidance, together with President Kim Il Sung, to the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the KPA on August 25, Juche 49 (1960) stationed in Ssangun-ri.

Here is a satellite image (Google Earth) of the Ssangun-ri Revolutionary Site (쌍운리 혁명사적지,  39°25’3.20″N, 125°44’30.74″E):

Joseph Bermudez wrote more about the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division here. Kim Jong-il last visited the unit on 2010-12-31.

The remainder of Kim’s guidance trips in January have been overwhelmingly military in nature:

KPA Air Force Unit 1017
Concert Given by Military Band of KPA
Flight Training of KPA Air Force Unit 378
Demonstration by Players of Western Area Aviation Club (KPA)
Mangyongdae Revolutionary School (KPA)
Lunar New Year Reception
Machine Plant managed by Ho Chol Yong (KPA)
Kim Jong Un Inspects Command of KPA Large Combined Unit 671
Kim Jong Un Inspects KPA Air Force Unit 354
Kim Jong Un Inspects KPA Unit 3870
KPA Unit 169 honored with the title of the O Jung Hup-led Seventh Regiment
Music and dance performace
Hero Street Meat Shop
Pyongyang Folk Village (KPA)

2012 New Year’s concert “The Cause of the Sun Will Be Immortal” given by the Unhasu Orchestra
Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division
Tribute to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at (Kamsusan)

The media/propaganda campaign:

1. On Kim Jong-un’s birthday, KCTV ran a muchwrittenabout, hourlong documentary titled, Inheriting the Great Achievement of the Military First Revolution of (Mount) Baekdu, which highlights Kim Jong-un’s bona fides as a great military strategist (see full video here). It also allegedly mentions Jong-un’s mother, though not by name, who was born in Japan.

At this point I don’t have much to add on the film except a translation of Kim Jong-un’s quote in the film, which may be his first official one, provided by C. La Shure in the Korean Studies Digest:

“I am accustomed to working through the night and so am not bothered by it. The most joyous and happiest moments for me are when I can bring joy to the comrade supreme commander. Thus, though I have stayed up several nights, I have worked without knowing weariness. Even when I work through several nights, once I have brought joy to the comrade supreme commander, the weariness vanishes and a new strength courses through my whole body. This must be what revolutionaries live for.”

2. Kim Jong-un’s “motherly” or “nurturing” traits have also been emphasized — imitating not only Kim il-sung’s appearance but also his public mannerisms (a la Bryan Myers):


Pictured above:  (Top) The cover of B.R. Myers’ book, The Cleanest Race. (Bottom) Kim Jong-un’s visits to KPA Unit 354 (L) and the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School (R)

3. Kim Jong-un has issued several autographs which look remarkably like his father’s (and grandfather’s):


Pictured above: (L) Kim Jong-il’s signature taken from North Korean television. (R) Kim Jong-un’s signature as reported by KCNA on 2012-1-3. The Choson Ilbo also picked up on this.

4. The KCNA web page now has a special content filter built specifically to highlight Kim Jong-un’s activities.  They have also started printing his name in a larger type.

5. Kim Jong-un is now part of the DPRK’s infamous criticism sessions. According to the Daily NK:

“The Central Party is propagandizing the greatness of Kim Jong Eun through criticism sessions, and coming down hard on anybody who is reported to have said anything hinting at any doubt of his greatness,” the source said, adding, “all cadres are being careful not to get caught out by this, without exception.”

6. Kim Jong-un  is being called “father” in the official media.  According to the Daily NK:

Choson Central News Agency (KCNA) on the 25th reported that Kim Jong Eun made a visit to the Mangyondae Revolutionary School. During his visit, Kim Jong Eun was greeted by staff and students as “Dear Father,” a designation stressing loyalty.

Rodong Shinmun, a day before, ran an article entitled ‘The sun shines forever’. It stated “our people broken hearted at the loss of our nation’s Father (Kim Jong Il ) and out of love our father (Kim Jong Eun) warmly welcomed the return of our people from overseas.” This statement showed that Kim Jong Eun has succeeded being called ‘father’ following Kim Jong Il.

The newspaper went on to praise Kim Jong Eun, “our people are all one in our father and persist with single-minded unity and great heart.”

7. The Lunar New Year holiday was co-opted to celebrate the rise of Kim Jong-un. In addition to public ceremonies and performances in honor of one of the three leaders (Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un), the practice of distributing holiday rations in the name of the leader was resumed. In a sign of the “back to the future” economic policies which may be on the horizon, the DPRK is rumored to be interested in reviving nation-wide food distribution through the PDS.

8. KCNA announced an amnesty for convicts. Details were scarce.


DPRK 2011 food shortage debate compendium

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

UPDATE (2012-2-1): Karin Lee of the National Committee on North Korea wrote a great summary of the DPRK’s food situation in 2011:

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid. Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment. Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.” While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact.

But the two biggest factors shaping the U.S. government’s indecisiveness continued to be uncertainty about both the severity of the need and the ability to establish an adequate monitoring regime. At times, South Korean private and public actors questioned the extent of the North’s need. Early on, a lawmaker in South Korea asserted that North Korea already had stockpiled 1,000,000 metric tons of rice for its military. Human rights activist Ha Tae Keung argued that North Korea would use the aid contributed in 2011 to augment food distributions in 2012 in celebration of the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung and North Korea’s status as a “strong and prosperous nation.” According to Yonhap, shortly after the U.N. released the above-noted figures, South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik called the food situation in North Korea not “very serious.”

South Korea’s ambivalence about the extent of the food crisis was noted by Capitol Hill, exacerbating congressional reluctance to support food aid. A letter to Secretary Clinton sent shortly before the U.S. assessment trip in May began with Senators Lieberman, McCain, Webb and Kyl explaining they shared South Korean government suspicions that food aid would be stockpiled and requesting State to “rigorously” evaluate any DPRK request for aid. With the close ROK-U.S. relationship one of the administration’s most notable foreign policy accomplishments, such a warning may have carried some weight.

Monitoring is of equal, if not greater congressional concern. Since the 1990s U.S. NGOs and USAID have worked hard with DPRK counterparts to expand monitoring protocols, and conditions have consistently improved over time. In the 2008/2009 program, the first food program funded by the U.S. government since 2000, the DPRK agreed to provisions such as Korean-speaking monitors. The NGO portion of the program was fairly successful in implementing the monitoring protocol; when implementation of the WFP portion hit some bumps, USAID suspended shipments to WFP until issues could be resolved. The DPRK ended the program prematurely in March 2009 with 330,000 MT remaining.

In 2011 the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy conducted a survey of recent defectors to examine “aid effectiveness” in the current era. Out of the 500 interviewees, 274 left the DPRK after 2010. However, only six were from provinces where NGOs had distributed aid in 2008/2009. Disturbingly, of the 106 people interviewees who had knowingly received food aid, 29 reported being forced to return food. Yet the report doesn’t state their home towns, or when the events took place. Unfortunately such incomplete data proves neither the effectiveness nor ineffectiveness of the most recent monitoring regime.

Some believe that adequate monitoring is impossible. The House version of the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act included an amendment prohibiting the use of Food for Peace or Title II funding for food aid to North Korea; the amendment was premised on this belief. However the final language signed into law in November called for “adequate monitoring,” not a prohibition on funding.

The U.S. response, nine months in the making, reflects the doubts outlined above and the politically challenging task of addressing them. It took months for the two governments to engage in substantive discussions on monitoring after the May trip. In December, the State Department called the promised nutritional assistance “easier to monitor” because items such as highly fortified foods and nutritional supplements are supposedly less desirable and therefore less likely to be diverted than rice. The reported offer of 240,000 MT– less than the 330,000 MT the DPRK requested – reflects the unconfirmed report that the U.S. identified vulnerable populations but not widespread disaster.

In early January, the DPRK responded. Rather than accepting the assistance that was under discussion, it called on the United States to provide rice and for the full amount, concluding “We will watch if the U.S. truly wants to build confidence.” While this statement has been interpreted positively by some as sign of the new Kim Jong Un regime’s willingness to talk, it also demonstrates a pervasive form of politicization – linkage. A “diplomatic source” in Seoul said the December decision on nutritional assistance was linked to a North Korean pledge to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Linkage can be difficult to avoid, and the long decision-making process in 2011 may have exacerbated the challenge. Although Special Representative Glyn Davies was quick to state that “there isn’t any linkage” between the discussion of nutritional assistance and dialogue on security issues, he acknowledged that the ability of the DPRK and US to work together cooperatively on food assistance would be interpreted as a signal regarding security issues. Meanwhile, the hungry child in North Korea is still hungry.

UPDATE 75 (2011-12-5): The ROK will donate US$5.65 million to N. Korea through the UN. According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.

The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.

Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.

There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.

“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.

South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.

Despite the South’s softer stance, North Korea recently threatened to turn Seoul’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in response to South Korea’s military maneuvers near the tense western sea border.

South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.

Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.

Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

UPDATE 74 (2011-12-2): The Choson Ilbo reports that the DPRK’s food prices are rising after the 2011 fall harvest, however, the price increase is not due to a shortage of output, but rather political directives. According to the article:

The price of rice in North Korea is skyrocketing, contrary to received wisdom that it drops after the harvest season. According to a source on North Korea on Wednesday, the rice price has risen from 2,400 won a kg in early October to 5,000 won in late November.

North Korean workers earn only 3,000-4,000 won per month.

This unusual hike in rice price seems to be related to preparation of next year’s political propaganda projects.

A South Korean government official said, “It seems the North Korean government is not releasing rice harvested this year in order to save it up” for celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s centenary next year, when the North has vowed to become “a powerful and prosperous nation.”

UPDATE 73 (2011-11-24): According to the Daily NK, DPRK television is calling on people to conserve food:

With barely a month left until 2012, the year in which people were promised a radical lifestyle transformation to coincide with the North Korea’s rebirth as a ‘strong and prosperous nation’, programs calling upon people to conserve food are now being broadcast by Chosun Central TV and the fixed-line cable broadcaster ‘3rd Broadcast’.

Chosun Central TV is broadcasting the programs as part of ‘Socio-Culture and Lifestyle Time’, which begins directly after the news on Thursdays at 8:40pm. The majority of the content is apparently now about saving food.

A Yangkang Province source told The Daily NK on Wednesday, “Recently the head lecturer from Jang Cheol Gu Pyongyang Commercial University, Dr. Seo Young Il, has been appearing on the program both on television and the cable broadcasting system, talking about saving food.”

In one such program, Professor Seo apparently noted, “In these days of the military-first era there is a new culture blossoming, one which calls for a varied diet,” before encouraging citizens to eat potatoes and rice, wild vegetables and rice and kimchi and rice rather than white rice on its own, and then adding that bread and wheat flour noodles are better than rice for lunch and dinner.

It is understood that older programs with titles such as ‘A Balanced Diet is Excellent Preparation for Saving Food’ and ‘Cereals with Rice: Good for Your Health’ are also being rebroadcast, while watchers are being informed that thinking meat is required for a good diet is ‘incorrect’.

Whenever North Korea is on high alert or there is a directive to be handed down from Kim Jong Il, both of Chosun Central TV and the 3rd Broadcast are used to communicate with the public. For this reason, some North Korea watchers believe the recent food-saving campaign may reflect a particularly weak food situation in the country going into the winter.

According to the source, one recent program showed a cookery competition involving members of the Union of Democratic Women from Pyongyang’s Moranbong District. During which, one woman was filmed extolling the virtues of potato soup, saying “If we follow the words of The General and try eating potatoes as a staple food, there will be no problem.”

Read all previous posts on the DPRK’s food situation this year blow: