There has been an increase in staple food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the second year running but under-nutrition persists for nearly three million people, according to a new United Nations assessment released today.
The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, conducted by the world body’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), found that overall production for the main 2012 harvest and 2013 early season crops is expected to be 5.8 million metric tons, an improvement of 10 per cent over last year.
“This, however, should not mask an ongoing struggle with under-nutrition and a lack of vital protein and fat in the diet, especially for an estimated 2.8 million vulnerable people,” the agencies stated in a joint news release.
The Assessment Mission, which visited all nine agricultural provinces in late September/early October, around the main annual cereal harvest, was particularly concerned about a 30 per cent decline in soybean production. It was also concerned with the limited quantity of vegetables available, perpetuating a chronic lack of key proteins, oils, fats, vitamins and micronutrients in most diets.
The country needs to import 507,000 metric tons of cereals to meet its basic food needs, according to the Assessment Mission. Even if the Government’s cereal import target of 300,000 metric tons is met, this would leave a staple food deficit of 207,000 metric tons – the lowest in many years.
“The country needs to produce more protein-rich foods like soybean and fish and to put more effort into growing two crops a year so a more varied diet is available for everyone,” said an FAO economist and co-leader of the Assessment Mission, Kisan Gunjal.
He recommended household vegetable gardens to help improve nutrition as well as changes to the agricultural marketing system to allow farmers to sell their rice, maize and wheat at market.
While levels of acute malnutrition have declined, there is still concern as many young children remain highly vulnerable to shocks. It is important to have a more steady supply of specialised nutritious foods such as fortified biscuits and nutritious blended foods, including ‘Super Cereal,’ during the lean season.
“This assessment has shown very clearly that we are having an impact in our work to address under-nutrition and it is vital that our programme continues to reach over one million children in nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools with predictable and adequate supplies,” said WFP’s Country Director for DPRK, Claudia von Roehl.
“The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming,” she added. “We must double our efforts to reach two million children with a steady stream of nutritious foods and so provide a more balanced, healthy diet.”