An estimated 40 per cent of the population of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK) – almost 9 million people – will be in need of urgent food aid in the next few months due to a shortage in cereals, according to a new United Nations report.
A joint assessment by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) found that agricultural production will fall short of what is needed this year because of critical shortages of fertilizer and fuel, in spite of favourable climate conditions during the past growing season.
“DPRK will face a severe food situation over the coming months,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO''s Global Information and Early Warning System, notwithstanding the hard work by both farmers and city dwellers.
“The prospects for next year are bleak, with a substantial deficit of basic foods that will only partly be covered by commercial imports and anticipated food aid,” he added.
Even with commercial imports, DPRK will face a cereal deficit of over 800,000 tons, the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, the first such comprehensive mission conducted since 2004.
“With such a large food gap, accessing enough food and a balanced diet will be almost impossible, particularly for families living in urban areas or in the remote food-deficit provinces in the Northeast,” Torben Due, WFP's Representative in DPRK said in the capital, Pyongyang.
He warned that this could have serious consequences for the health of the most vulnerable people in the Asian nation.
Only 142 kilograms of the 167 kilograms needed for a healthy diet will be available per person from the domestic production, the new report found.
Food rations handed out by the Public Distribution System (PDS) – the main food source for some 70 per cent of the population – are expected to be slashed dramatically, with most families in the DPRK already cutting back on the number of meals per day.
The low productivity of the farming sector is propelled by a long-term drop in soil fertility, lack of inputs, extreme weather and structural issues such as constraints on market activities.
Although seeds were available this year, there was a 40 per cent decline in fertilizer supplies and a 30 per cent drop in fuel supplies.
“The current agricultural production model and farming techniques are not sustainable,” FAO's Mr. Josserand noted. “The country has been taking up conservation agriculture, improved seed multiplication and other efficient practices, but turning the whole sector around will take quite some time.”