Two United Nations food agencies warned today that about five million people living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will continue to face food shortages despite a relatively good harvest and a slight increase in food supply.
A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), based on an assessment mission to the country in September, found that it faces a cereal import requirement for the 2010/11 marketing year (the 12-month period over which a crop is marketed) of an estimated 867,000 tonnes. The Government plans to import commercially only about 325,000 tonnes – leaving 542,000 tonnes as an uncovered food deficit.
In the joint report, the mission recommended the provision of some 305,000 tonnes of international food assistance to the most vulnerable population, in addition to other measures such as the upgrading of storage facilities for potatoes, improved grain drying methods and the development of a national policy to provide greater support to household gardens.
The mission covered seven of the DPRK’s ten provinces, accounting for about 90 per cent of the country's cereal production. The warehouses visited contained no cereal stocks while low quality maize available for distribution in October came from the summer harvest and, due to inadequate drying facilities, had excessive moisture content and contaminants.
A substantial increase in cereal production had been expected this year due to some improvement in the availability of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, operational tractors, diesel fuel and electricity. These expectations, however, were frustrated by a series of extreme weather events such as the intense rainstorms causing severe flooding and consequent crop loss.
“The cereal rations provided by the Government through its Public Distribution System in 2010/11 would likely contribute about half the daily energy requirements,” said the chief of WFP's Food Security Analysis Unit and co-leader of the mission, Joyce Luma.
“A small shock in the future could trigger a severe negative impact and will be difficult to contain if these chronic deficits are not effectively managed.”
Those who are most vulnerable to food shortages include children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, the elderly and food insecure in regions with high malnutrition.
In recent years, total cereal production in the DPRK has stagnated at around 4.5 million tonnes annually, compared to the 5.35 million tonnes that the mission said represented total utilization needs. Paddy (unmilled rice) is the most important crop of the DPRK, followed by maize, potatoes, wheat/barley and soybeans.