FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 277

FAO/WFP CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

11 September 1997



1. OVERVIEW

Against the backdrop of two successive years of floods in 1995 and 1996, this summer brought not only devastating drought throughout the country, but also a destructive typhoon, which extensively damaged crops in coastal areas in the west. These catastrophic events will undoubtedly have serious and long reaching repercussions on the country’s already grave food supply situation. Guarded optimism, expressed earlier, for some recovery in food production this year, is now replaced by very serious alarm at food security prospects for the coming months and year ahead. Certainly, in the absence of remedial interventions the potential consequences of this year’s calamities are likely to far exceed the devastation of the last two years as the country’s agriculture, food supply and the health of its population have already been severely affected. To assess the potential ramifications of this year’s drought and typhoon on crop production and food supply, a joint FAO/WFP mission visited Korea DPR from 16 to 26 August. It based its evaluation on discussions with Government and UN agencies and extensive damage assessment visits to the main agricultural areas in the south-west and north-east of the country. These include some 15 counties in the provinces of north and south Hwanghae, south Pyongan, south Hamyong and Kangwon.

The mission found that although the 1997 season began favourably with appreciably above normal rainfall in May, subsequently the amount of precipitation fell sharply. Consequently, rainfall in the critical months of June and July averaged between 20 and 30 percent of the long term average, whilst the projection for August was similar despite heavy rains brought by Typhoon Winnie in late August. Moreover, the rainfall brought by Typhoon Winnie over the three day period was of limited agricultural value as it only marginally replenished crucial irrigation supplies for paddy and came too late for the development of maize, which is mainly rainfed. Crop prospects were also adversely affected by significantly above normal temperatures at critical stages of growth.

The level of water in most rain dependent irrigation reservoirs is either critically low or already exhausted. In the absence of immediate, adequate and sustained rainfall for periods of at least three weeks to a month, therefore, irrigation supplies from these reservoirs will no longer be available. As paddy requires assured irrigation, at least until mid September, such an occurrence would effectively result in total crop loss in rainfed reservoirs areas. The only areas where production of rice and, to a lesser extent, maize is reasonably assured, is from irrigation schemes and reservoirs fed by the major rivers like the Tae Dong. In areas commanded by these water sources, losses due to drought are not anticipated. The significant reduction in

rainfall this year is also likely to affect crop prospects in 1998 as the near depletion of water supplies insupplies in rainfed reservoirs will mean that little will be available next April/May for land preparation and key planting operations. Although some replenishment of reservoirs will come from limited rainfall and snow melt before the onset of the next season, the amount anticipated will be well below requirements.

Crop and food prospects also suffered a set back from devastation caused by Typhoon Winnie between 18 and 22 August, which destroyed protective sea barriers along the western coast. Agriculture was most seriously affected by the infiltration of sea water into paddy areas where no possibility of recovery is anticipated. In the most serious cases observed, salt water had penetrated as much as 5 to 6 kilometres inland. In addition to crop losses, in the worst affected areas houses were destroyed and several thousand people were left homeless and requiring assistance.

Any estimates of losses provided by the mission at this stage must be regarded as tentative as harvesting will not be complete for some weeks, only after which a more accurate evaluation can be made. With this important proviso, the mission forecasts that, irrespective of any further rainfall maize production this year will be reduced by some 1.25 million tons. In the case of rice, even if significant rainfall is received immediately and is sustained over several weeks (which is essential though unlikely given normal distribution patterns) losses would amount to around 340 000 tons (milled equivalent). Conversely, under a scenario where sufficient rainfall were not forthcoming, output would be reduced by 630 000 tons (milled equivalent). Production of cereals for 1998, therefore, would be well below needs. In addition, the actual amount available could be even lower as it is highly probable that most of the maize harvest will be consumed fresh in the coming months due to necessity, whilst a part will need to be deducted for seed and waste. Moreover, only a negligible amount of food needs will be met from minor crops like potatoes, barley and wheat which constitute a small part of domestic production. Indeed most of these crops have been, or will be, consumed well before the end of the year.

The food outlook for Korea DPR in 1998 is considerably worse than that following the previous two years of disasters. Domestic production of cereals, even under the most optimistic scenario, will cover less than half the country’s minimum food needs, whilst imports from commercial channels are likely to become increasingly strained due to growing and chronic economic difficulties and the lack of foreign exchange. Furthermore, as commercial imports last year were highly dependent on barter trade with neighbouring provinces of Jilin and Liaonning in China, the fact that the drought this year also seriously affected crop production in these provinces may reduce surpluses and the volume of trade next year. This, therefore, may compound food problems further. The combination of all these factors means that there will be an even greater dependence on international assistance for food, agricultural rehabilitation and vital inputs of seed and fertilisers. Without these interventions the human consequences are likely to be dire.

2. WEATHER ANOMALIES IN 1997

 

2.1 Rainfall and Irrigation

In normal years, Korea DPR receives in the range of 900 to 1500 mm of rainfall, with approximately 80 to 90 percent of this received from April to September. Rainfall during the critical months from June to September is essential as crop production is largely dependent on precipitation during this period, with irrigation from reservoirs and rivers used only to supplement and balance water supplies. Although the season progressed favourably in April and especially May, when rainfall was appreciably above normal, a serious drought subsequently extending from the middle of June to the time of the mission’s visit in mid August reduced rainfall to between 14 and 40 percent of normal levels. Figure 1 gives an illustration of the rainfall pattern in 1997 compared to long-term monthly averages for a cross-section of weather stations across the country

Undisplayed Graphic

The serious decline in rainfall severely reduced water availability in predominantly rainfed reservoirs. Moreover, there is some indication that as a result of heavy, well above normal rainfall in May the water level in some reservoirs was intentionally and systematically reduced as there were fears that continuation of heavy rainfall into June and July might result in overflow from reservoirs and flooding as in the previous year.

A number of reservoirs were visited by the mission and in all cases it was observed that water supplies had either been totally exhausted or were well below capacity and the level required to feed distribution canals. In those cases where some water was still available, irrigation was only possible through the use of pumps, though even in these instances it was unlikely that this could continue for more than five to six days in the absence of significant replenishment through additional rainfall. Overall, as the paddy crop still requires assured irrigation, at least through mid September, adequate and sustained rainfall is urgently needed in these areas both for replenishing reservoirs and general crop development. In the absence of such rainfall there is a serious risk that the entire paddy crop in these areas will be lost. As the 1997 rainy season is also nearing completion, another adverse effect of the poor state of reservoirs which are entirely rain dependent, will be that land preparation and planting of 1998 crops in April/May will be highly compromised by the shortage of water. Between October and May next year, water will only be available from limited rainfall (around 200 mm or 15-20 percent of annual precipitation) and snow melt in February/March. In comparison, however, to maintain reservoirs at adequate capacity between 700 and 1000 mm of rainfall is required annually.

In addition to the lack of water at a critical period in the crop cycle temperatures in June and July were also appreciably (6 to 8 degrees centigrade) above normal in parts, which further stressed and damaged crops.

Domestic food production this year, therefore, will depend highly, if not almost exclusively, on areas that are irrigated from main rivers or reservoirs fed by these rivers, the levels of which were not observed to be seriously affected by the drought.

2.2 Typhoon Winnie

To aggravate the fragility of crop production this year, between 18 and 22 August. Typhoon Winnie, originating in the East China sea, adversely affected crops in important agricultural provinces in the country. Although in the initial stages the typhoon brought much needed rainfall, subsequently high winds and tides (mainly on 20-21 August) destroyed protective sea barriers along the western coast, principally along the Unjon and Pakchon plains in south Pyongan province.

The most serious effect on agriculture was the infiltration of sea water into paddy areas. In the most serious cases observed, sea water had penetrated as far as 5 to 6 kilometres inland into crop areas, where simple tests indicated that the salt content in paddy fields was approximately 30 parts per thousand, compared to 35 parts per thousand which normally occurs in sea water. From an agricultural perspective the infiltration of sea water into paddy areas will result in total crop loss and, in the longer term, significant deterioration of soils as a result of salination. In future, therefore, these areas will need repeated irrigation and ‘flushing’ with fresh water to regain productivity.

In addition to crop losses, in the worst affected areas observed (principally around Anju in Mundok county) a large number of houses were destroyed and several thousand people were left homeless, requiring assistance. The Government has mobilised the army and provincial administration to provide shelter and urgent food supplies.

3.1997 CROP PRODUCTION

As only some 2 million hectares, or 20 percent of the land area of Korea DPR, can be cultivated, of which only 1.43 million hectares are suitable for cereal and other food grain production, its ability to meet food needs through domestic supplies is tenuous and only feasible through highly intensive agriculture. Moreover a severe winter during which temperatures can fall to as low as -30o centigrade (C) means that only a short period is available which is frost free and hence conducive for crop production. This period generally ranges from 160 to 180 days, though can be as short as 130 days in mountainous areas. Rice and maize are the main staple foods, with rice mainly planted as paddy in the lowlands under irrigation and maize in at various elevations, predominantly under rainfed conditions.

3.1 Maize Production.

In meeting the cereal and food demands of Korea DPR, maize has assumed increasing importance in recent years. Some 650 000 hectares are cultivated, with the growing period of popular varieties ranging from 110 to 135 days. Planting normally takes place from the middle of April to the beginning of May, whilst flowering and pollination occurs around the middle of July. During this period the water and soil moisture regime is of utmost importance and any shortages, as in this year, can seriously affect pollination and grain formation, which may result in weak ears or total loss of production. Harvesting begins at the end of August and extends to mid September. The main maize varieties produced are Hwansong 1 and 2 and Unsan 5. Prevailing input constraints suggest that yields of maize could have ranged from 5 tons/ha on good soils to between 2 and 3 tons/ha on moderate to poor soils. Under suitable weather conditions, an average yield of around 3.5 tons/ha could have been achieved. Maize is largely rainfed and as a consequence suffered most from this year’s drought.

Very little maize was affected by the typhoon, whilst field observations by the mission to assess drought damage highlighted the following crop conditions ( an estimate of area under each condition is given in brackets)

i) Areas where irrigation has been continuous the crop was observed to be in good condition and average yields are anticipated. (195 000 ha)

ii) Areas in which some supplementary irrigation has been provided a reduction in yield in the order of 50 percent is anticipated. (130 000 ha)

iii) Under rainfed non-irrigated conditions pollination and grain formation was seriously affected, crops were highly stunted and effectively had developed very poor grains or no grains at all. Only 10 percent of yields, at best, are likely from these areas. (325 000 ha)

Irrespective of further rainfall, which could indeed hamper harvesting, it is estimated that the output of maize this year will be reduced by around 1.25 million tons.

3.2 Rice Production.

Rice is the country’s main staple, cultivated on an estimated 600 000 hectares, with a crop cycle of 150 to 180 days depending on variety and location. Transplanting is normally undertaken from the middle of May to the beginning of June, whilst the plant reaches flowering from the beginning to the middle of August. At all stages rice needs ample water to the middle of September or approximately a week to ten days before full maturity and harvesting. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the area under rice is planted to one of three main varieties namely; Pyongyang 15, 18 or 21. For prevailing soil conditions in Korea DPR, rice optimally requires 150 kg/ha of Nitrogen (N), 75 kg/ha of Potassium (K) and 60 kg/ha of Potash (P) respectively, to be applied as basal applications, at tillering, just before flowering and at grain development. In 1997, allowing for constraints in input supply, under optimal weather and water conditions an average of 4 tons/ha of paddy could have been produced within a range of 6 tons/ha on good lands to 2 -2.5 tons/ha on poor lands. The drought and typhoon will reduce production appreciably.

Generally, by the time of the mission it was estimated that the rice crop needed a further 5 to 6 weeks to reach physiological maturity. At this stage it is imperative that the crop continues to receive assured irrigation for at least a period of 3 to 4 weeks, in the absence of which there would be a serious reduction in yields and possibly total loss. Field observations by the mission to assess drought and typhoon damage, highlighted the following crop conditions (figures in brackets are an estimate of area under each condition):

i) Areas that had continued to receive adequate irrigation, mainly from river schemes. There was no apparent repercussion on crops and no yield and output reductions are perceived. (420 000 ha)

ii) Fields where soils had become dry and muddy and where surface water cover had been reduced appreciably. In this instance providing water supplies are re-established immediately a high rate of crop recuperation could occur though yields may be reduced by around 20 percent. In the absence of adequate rainfall, however, no output would be achieved. (90 000 ha).

iii) Paddy fields that showed signs of drought damage, where no water was present and soils had dried to depths of 4 to 5 centimetres. In this instance even if water is supplied immediately, yields would be reduced by more than 50 percent. Again, in the absence of sustained and immediate rainfall the crop would be entirely lost. (60 000 ha)

iv) Areas that displayed advance drought damage where soils had become completely dry and cracked and the crop wilted. Irrespective of whether more water is made available or not at this stage under these conditions no output is anticipated. (30 000 ha)

v) Areas affected by typhoon damage, where contamination from sea water means that no output will be possible. (30 000 ha).

Rice prospects at this crucial stage are very heavily dependent on whether or not there is adequate and sustained rainfall in September. Based on the above observations the mission conservatively estimates that some 342 000 tons of milled rice would be lost this year even if further rainfall were to occur, whilst losses would amount to 630 000 tons if it did not. In making this projection it is important to recognise that it is tentative and subject to reassessment at the time of harvest in October .

4. FOOD SUPPLY OUTLOOK.

Food security and the capacity of Korea DPR to ensure an adequate provision of food to its population continues to be conditioned by two basic and important factors namely; i) the resources it has available to produce food domestically (principally inputs) and ii) the capacity of the economy to provide requisite inputs for agriculture and supplement food supply through imports in years when production falls short of needs. Future food security in the country, therefore, depends as much on general economic performance as on efforts to increase output in agriculture.

Certainly weather hazards this year and continuing economic problems, will accentuate the seriousness of existing food supply difficulties in the country. Indeed, as the general health of the population has now already been highly weakened by the shortage of adequate food in recent years, especially amongst vulnerable groups, the anticipated shortfall this year is likely to have far-reaching implications that go beyond the devastation of 1995 and 1996. Cereal stocks in the Public Distribution System (PDS) are believed to have been exhausted by the end of July which meant that the system effectively ceased normal operations at this time. Now any distribution made through the PDS is reliant entirely on food imports coming into the country either in the form of commercial imports or food assistance. In addition, as last year, limited supplies of potatoes and some fresh maize have been introduced into the PDS to supplement rations. Although potatoes are not a staple, it is recognised that at present they form an important part of the diet.

The FAO/WFP mission in May this year identified a substantial food deficit and stressed that large-scale imports would be essential if minimum needs were to be met till the next harvest. Moreover, due to serious foreign exchange constraints and the problems the country faced in securing food imports through credit effectively meant that substantial international food assistance was required. At the time of the mission, the total food import requirement for the 1996/97 marketing year (Nov/Oct) was estimated at around 1.9 million tons of which some 753 000 tons was anticipated through commercial (barter) imports and food assistance, including pledges, through various international agencies. This left an uncovered import requirement of close to 1.2 million tons.

In view of the gravity of the food supply situation, since May the Government has increased efforts to secure food imports through provincial level barter trade and hard currency imports from Thailand, Vietnam and China. The Government’s food administration currently estimates that so far this marketing year these forms of imports amount to around 690 000 tons of cereals, comprising 320 000 tons of maize, 130 000 tons of rice and 240 000 tons of wheat (grain equivalent). Food assistance pledged and delivered, including bilateral and multilateral aid now amounts to some 800 000 tons. Total availability of cereals, including domestic production, commercial imports and food assistance, for the 1996/97 marketing year, therefore, amounts to around 4.5 million tons compared to a requirement of 5 million tons for reduced utilisation as outlined in the last FAO/WFP assessment in June (Special Alert No 275). Of some concern, however, is that some of the pledged food assistance may not arrive until November.

Nevertheless, the most serious effects of this year’s drought in the summer and the recent typhoon will be felt in a substantial reduction in food supply from domestic sources in 1998.

5. EMERGENCY FOOD OPERATIONS

In the wake of natural disasters in Korea DPR, the World Food Programme has been operational in the country since November 1995. Since then a total of US$ 178.5 million, or 425 000 tons of food, have been requested through various emergency appeals. In response, by the beginning of September 1997, some 416 000 tons of food had been pledged by the international community.

The current phase of operations covers the period April 1997 to March 1998. The total quantity to be provided under this phase is 333 200 tons of food. Contributions as of 1 September 1997 total 322 500 tons, corresponding to approximately 97 percent of the target. There is, however, a shortfall in cash and more expensive commodities.

The categories of beneficiaries supported under the current operation include:

i) Approximately 2.6 million children aged six or under, who receive food rations at nurseries and kindergartens throughout the country. Almost three quarters of food provisions under the emergency programme are to be directed at this group.

ii) The rest of the provisions are intended for some 250 000 farmers/workers and 850 000 dependants in flood-affected areas, who receive cereals for work involving clearing of agricultural land, rehabilitation of rural infrastructure and participation in disaster mitigation schemes. Up to one million patients will also receive food during short hospital stays.

In view of expected production shortfalls this year, further WFP assistance is likely in 1998. However, specific details of the operation, including beneficiary groups, activities, areas to be covered, etc, will only be determined after an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in October 1997 at the time of harvest.
 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required. 
Abdur Rashid 
Chief, GIEWS FAO
Telex 610181 FAO I
Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495
E-mail:GIEWS1@FAO.ORG 
Ms. J. Cheng-Hopkins 
Regional Director, OAP, WFP 
Telex: 626675 WFP 1 
Fax: 0039-6-6513-2209 
E-Mail: Judy.Cheng-Hopkins@WFP.ORG
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