Food stocks run dangerously low in Korea DPR, warns Special Alert

Figures show that cereal production in Korea DPR continues to tumble after three years of natural calamities and growing economic difficulties. Projected import requirements for 1997/98 are somewhat lower than the previous year, mainly because of significant reductions in utilization for feed and other uses. The country remains more dependent than ever on food assistance.

Grain stocks in Korea DPR will run out by late April or early May, FAO has warned in a recently released Special Alert. The country will be left "entirely dependent on food imports, mostly aid, until the next harvest in September/October".

Although a milder than normal winter has helped ease the situation, concerns are mounting as the lean season approaches and food stocks and rations fall. There is a risk of increased malnutrition, although its full extent is unknown. The report calls for the "urgent" undertaking of a random, representative assessment of the nutritional situation in the country.

A joint FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Mission to Korea DPR in November 1997 estimated cereal import requirements for the marketing year 1997/98 at nearly 2 million tonnes, of which commercial imports were expected to cover approximately 700 000 tonnes. So far, approximately 270 000 tonnes of grain have been delivered in food assistance through the UN system, and a further 175 000 tonnes have been pledged in response to a recent UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal. But this amount will still leave some 65 percent of import requirements uncovered.

In the short term there is a continued need for food aid to vulnerable groups, according to the Special Alert, issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). The large quantities of food assistance to the country may be the most important reason why chronic malnutrition has not become more widespread and entrenched in a population that has been faced with natural calamities, declining food production and growing economic difficulties over the last three years.

But medium-term international assistance to Korea DPR is equally important to help stabilize the country's food and agriculture situation, the report stressed.

Assistance for agricultural rehabilitation and the provision of essential inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and appropriate farm technology is a major necessity. In response to the UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal, which earmarks about US$23 million for agriculture and food security, around $1 million has been provided for more than 3 000 tonnes of barley seed for a double-cropping programme in 1998 to enhance food production. The seeds will be delivered shortly, to enable an additional barley crop to be grown from March to June.

Pledges for the remainder of the appeal for revitalizing domestic food production are urgently needed. As a separate initiative, FAO is also assisting the Government in developing a National Programme for Agricultural Development as part of its Special Programme for Food Security for low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs).

In the longer term, future food security in Korea DPR will depend heavily on solutions that address the major economic difficulties. In the absence of these, even without emergencies, the food supply situation will remain highly precarious as productivity in agriculture falls, the ability of the country to finance food imports to cover shortfalls recedes further and tradable resources for barter become scarcer.

An FAO team plans to visit Korea DPR in May/June to assess early crop prospects for 1998 and review the food situation.

26 March 1998

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