Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

North Korea has bigger harvest, but millions still need food aid

the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 23 Nov 2004 -- PYONGYANG/ROME ­- Despite its best harvest in ten years, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will post another substantial food deficit in 2005 and require external aid to support more than a quarter of its 23.7 million people, two United Nations agencies said today.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) projected domestic cereals availability in the 2004/05 marketing year (November-October) at 4.24 million tonnes, including milled rice and potatoes - a 2.4 per cent increase on 2003/04.

However, it warns that insufficient production, a deficient diet, lower incomes and rising prices mean that 6.4 million vulnerable North Koreans - most of them children, women and the elderly - will need food assistance totaling 500,000 tonnes next year.

Good weather improves 2003 harvest

The 2004 rice paddy harvest was estimated at 2.37 million tonnes, up from 2.24 million tonnes in 2003, thanks primarily to favourable weather, a low incidence of crop pests and diseases, and improved irrigation in the country's cereal belt. Maize output was unchanged at 1.73 million tonnes.

Forecasting total cereal needs for 2004/05 at 5.13 million tonnes, the UN agencies projected an import requirement of almost 900,000 tonnes. Given anticipated concessional and commercial imports of 400,000 tonnes, the residual gap will be about 500,000 tonnes.

Most of the 16 million people receiving subsidized cereals from the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS) averaging 300 grams per person per day - half a survival ration - cannot make ends meet. They turn to more expensive private markets yet "they are still not able to cover their basic energy requirements," FAO and WFP said.

Despite good harvest, food external food aid needed

The report, which followed a joint assessment mission by the Rome-based food agencies in September and October, says, "the continuing national shortage is still a problem" so "external food aid is in part seen within the context of overall domestic availability."

It also noted that, increasingly, "the most critical problem for poor households is their lack of access to basic and nutritious food because of declining purchasing power." As a result, assistance to the food-insecure population "should now be determined more by their household food gap than the national food gap in cereal production."

"A balanced diet is out of reach for all but a few PDS-dependent households," the report says. "The situation remains particularly precarious for children in kindergartens, nurseries, orphanages and primary schools, pregnant and nursing women, and elderly people."

RAP 04/38

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