PR 96/61 - NORTH KOREA STILL NEEDS MASSIVE FOOD ASSISTANCE


Rome, 6 December -- North Korea approaches 1997 in a far worse position than 1996 and still needs large scale amounts of international food assistance just to meet its minimum food needs, two UN agencies reported Friday.

"Two successive years of floods have undoubtedly set back agriculture and have significantly compounded underlying food production problems in the country", said the report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Besides the floods, "economic problems have manifested themselves in falling productivity and output in the agriculture sector", said the report, which was based on a recent visit to the country by representatives of the two agencies.

The FAO/WFP mission to North Korea also reported that domestic production of fertilizers and imports of essential items -- like fuel and spare parts -- have fallen drastically in recent years. Food production in North Korea is constrained by geography, land availability, climate and continuous cultivation, which has seriously depleted soils.

"The balance in agriculture can easily be upset by natural calamities, such as the floods in the last two years", the agencies said. North Korea "can simply not produce enough food grains to meet demand and has a growing dependence on imports".

The agencies reported that Pyongyang, lacking foreign exchange, burdened with huge international debts and having virtually no access to credit, last year resorted to "desperate measures," such as bartering badly needed raw materials for grain to cope with the food emergency.

The mission reported that up to half of the country's 1996 maize harvest and almost all of the potato harvest were consumed early, in August and September, due to severe food shortages. Borrowing part of this year's harvest in advance means the country has merely deferred the food problem to 1997, the agencies reported.

Overall domestic production of milled rice and maize available for use in this marketing year amounts to 2.8 million tons, 2.3 million tons short of minimum needs.

The critical period will come from July to September next year, the agencies reported. "Only if adequate food assistance is mobilized before the onset of this period, will further hardship in the population be averted", they said.