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

SPECIAL REPORT

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

16 November 2000

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1. OVERVIEW

After two relatively stable agricultural years in 1998 and 1999, which saw moderate recovery in domestic food production following earlier disasters in 1995, 1996 and 1997, food production in 2000 has again slumped. This has been due to a combination of drought, at critical stages in the crop cycle, particularly planting, and the cumulative effect of underlying problems in agriculture which continue to constrain production heavily. Most important of these constraints has been the lack of electricity and fuel, which has greatly hindered irrigation and water delivery systems, resulting in lack of water in reservoirs and in the field at important times during the season. As a result of these factors there has been a sizeable reduction in rice and maize productivity and production.

This year's drought also affected neighbouring China and a number of other countries in central and south Asia and the Middle East. The knock-on effects, however, are perhaps more ominous in DPR Korea as the country can essentially produce food during only one season in the year (June-Oct.), has chronic input problems in the agricultural sector and is already in the midst of serious and persistent food shortages. Consequently, with no real possibility of enhancing food supplies significantly through domestic production till the next harvest in September/October 2001 and limited resources to import food commercially, the country appears to have little alternative other than to rely heavily on food assistance during the next 12 months, as it has done for the last five years.

The earlier FAO/WFP mission in June, warned that in view of problems at the onset of the season, the outlook for this year's harvest was poor and that any recovery would depend heavily on rainfall during the critical rainfall months in July and August. The June mission also recommended that a further assessment mission visit DPR Korea in late September/early October to fully appraise the harvest and consequent food supply prospects for 2000/01. Due to the 55th anniversary celebrations of the Korean Worker's Party in early October, however, the Government requested a delay in the mission to mid October. The final mission dates therefore were from 14 - 21 October. At this time, the maize crop had been completely harvested and removed and the rice crop had also been largely harvested though remained in stacks in the field. Some late planted rice still remained un-harvested, though the crop appeared weak, due to lack of adequate water, and expected yields were anticipated to be very low. The estimate for 2000 maize production, therefore, is based largely on data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, whilst the output of rice is based on field inspections of harvested rice, an assessment of potential yields and official estimates of area harvested this year. In making its assessment, in addition to discussions the mission had with key Government departments, UN agencies and NGOs it made field visits to main agricultural areas and to some irrigation reservoirs. To assess food distribution and supply the mission also made a number of inspections of individual households in urban and rural areas, grain stores and public distribution outlets and schools.

The mission assessed that average rainfall during the 2000 season was well below average and only reached some 40 percent of norm during the critical months of June and July. In August there was some recovery in precipitation though the levels still remained almost 20 percent below average. The lack of rainfall and irrigation water at critical junctures in the season, resulted most seriously in delays in planting main season rice and maize; a sizeable reduction in the area under rice, due to crop substitution and, hence, a notable fall in yields and output. The generally poor state of crops this year were substantiated by satellite Spot-4 imagery, which indicated that the relative level of vegetative cover in important agricultural areas was considerably lower in during the agricultural season this year compared to 1999. The decline in crop production was further exacerbated by typhoon Prapiroon at the end of August and typhoon Saomai in September. These typhoons caused serious damage to infrastructure and property and localised damage to crops.

Based on the information provided and its assessment, the mission estimates 2000 paddy production at 1.69 million tonnes, around 31 percent or 734 000 tonnes lower than the FAO/WFP estimate of production in 1999. Maize production is estimated to have fallen to around one million tonnes, some 235 000 lower than the mission estimate of production last year. As a result of crop substitution of 45 000 hectares from rice to other crops, 65 000 tonnes of other cereals (sorghum and millet) were also produced this year, up from around 20 000 tonnes in 1999. In addition to this year's main cereal harvest, food supply prospects in 2000/01 will also depend considerably on the output of next year's potato and double crop barley and wheat crops. Although only a tentative forecast at this stage, based on target areas, production of these crops is forecast at 1.87 million tonnes of potato (470 000 tonnes cereal equivalent) and 246 000 tonnes of wheat and barley.

Overall domestic grain availability, in cereal equivalent, for the next marketing year, therefore, is forecast at 2.92 million tonnes. Against this, grain demand for food and other utilisation needs for 2000/01 is estimated at 4.79 million tonnes, leaving an import requirement of around 1.87 million tonnes. Commercial imports are anticipated to cover 200 000 tonnes and 500 000 tonnes more is expected as bilateral concessional imports. Taking these into account, the uncovered import requirement, therefore, is estimated at 1 165 000 tonnes, with which the country still needs assistance to meet minimum food needs.

The overall import requirement is the largest since 1997, though in contrast this year the country does have a substantial amount of food aid pledged already. In addition, the donor base, which had remained rather narrow hitherto, has broadened with an expected 500 000 tonnes from Japan, whilst the Republic of Korea will provide 500 000 tonnes in concessional imports and 100 000 in food assistance. Without these substantial contributions, there is little doubt that the overall food supply situation over the next year, would have been extremely serious.

The mission notes that although the importance of the Public Distribution System in ensuring food supplies through out the year has declined considerably in the last few years, that of markets and supplies from other channels has increased. This in turn has led to growing disparities between various population groups, especially in economic and physical access to food, which has become more competitive, mainly to the disadvantage of the urban population. Based on available information, the indications are that the urban population have between 20 and 25 percent less cereal available per caput compared to individuals in rural areas. In addition, household food access is also becoming increasingly dependent on the level of goods it has that can be bartered, on petty trade and work on co-operative farms which is now remunerated with food allocations following a system of work points.

To assess food needs, past FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions to DPR Korea, have used a yardstick of 167 kg/caput year to provide 75 percent of a minimum calorie requirement of 2 100 kcal. This assumption, however, may need to be reviewed for large numbers of vulnerable people, who need nutritional rehabilitation after years of low food intake. To meet this additional need, there appears to be a justification for increasing the level of calories in future. For emergency operations, WHO and WFP, however, normally calculate the calorie requirements taking into account the rule by which 100kcal is added for every 5 degrees centigrade below 20 degrees centigrade. As average temperature in DPRK is 11 degrees centigrade, the increase would thus be 200 kcal or a total of 2 300 kcal1. To support such justification, however, the mission notes that it is imperative that an objective and scientific nutritional assessment be undertaken as soon as possible.

Over the short term, food aid will continue to play a major role in ensuring food security. Medium to longer term prospects, however, will depend on DPR Korea's ability to rehabilitate agriculture. In this regard the country needs continued assistance from the international community to restore domestic production of its major crops to meet needs.

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2. FOOD PRODUCTION IN 2000

Chronic difficulties in agriculture, brought on by economic problems continue to seriously undermine domestic food production in the country. These have cumulated over several years, and are now probably more significant than hitherto in constraining production. There are serious problems in the provision of electricity and fuel, which in turn have greatly reduced the capacity of farms to reserve and deliver adequate supplies of water, whilst mechanisation and the provision of transport have also been severely curtailed and there is chronic shortage of fertilisers and other agro-chemicals. These in turn have severely limited necessary farm operations reducing the ability of co-operatives to cover water shortages, through increased irrigation, in adverse years and reduced potential productivity. In poor climatic years such as this, therefore, production problems became greatly exacerbated and the likelihood of food shortages increases considerably.

During the 1990s, although the Government has made efforts to counter such limitations, through appropriate research, planning and intensive management, productivity of both labour and land has fallen sharply due to lack of capital and investment. Machine hours are declining as more and more become irreparable constraining key agricultural operations, whilst aggregate fertiliser use has dropped in recent years to well below basic requirements to maintain reasonable soil nutrient levels. Although the international community has assisted the country bilaterally and through UN agencies to rehabilitate agriculture and through donations of fertilisers and other inputs, the levels have been well short of what is required to maintain agriculture and food production sustainably.

In view of these problems, the output of rice and maize has fallen sharply. The corresponding decline in fertiliser use and production of paddy and maize is illustrated in figures 1 and 2 below.

2.1 Rainfall and Water Availability

Weather conditions in DPR Korea this year were not at all conducive to crop production. In similarity with a number of other countries, overall rainfall in 2000 was erratic and below normal. The lack of rain and irrigation at the beginning of the season, particularly affected rice planting which resulted in an eight percent reduction in area planted to that planned. In the reduced area, other crops, (sorghum and millets) were substituted for rice. The lack of rain at the beginning of the season in spring, followed by below normal distribution through the critical months of June, July and August also affected maize at critical times of the crop cycle, (pollination/flowering) considerably reducing yields. Based on available data, in important agricultural areas in the south west and north east, rainfall in July was some 38 percent of normal. August saw some improvement in precipitation though overall availability was discernibly below norm. Figure 3 illustrates the average rainfall pattern for the representative locations for the 2000 season, compared to the long term average, whilst fig 4 indicates cumulative rainfall. Severely reduced precipitation this year, following below normal rainfall in 1999, will also mean reduced water availability for replenishment of irrigation reservoirs, which may seriously effect preparation for the next 2001 crop season.

1 2000 rainfall data taken from 6 stations in key agricultural areas in the SW and NE of the country.
1 2000 rainfall data taken from 6 stations in key agricultural areas in the SW and NE of the country.

2.2 2000 Paddy and Maize Production

Rice is mainly cultivated in the alluvial plains or on graded terraces with irrigation predominantly in the south west. The area cultivated has remained more or less constant over the last decade with an annual target of around 580 000 hectares. Although this was also the target for the 2000 season, due to water shortages at the beginning of the season, the Government reports that the actual area planted was reduced to 535 000 hectares, with 45 000 hectares diverted to other low yielding crops, such buck wheat, sorghum and millets, which are less susceptible to drought. In addition, the level of irrigation available to make up the shortfall in rainfall was also lower this year, which collectively reduced productivity. Based on field inspections the mission estimates that paddy yields this year would have ranged from 4.5 tonnes per hectare in good soil areas with adequate water (on around one third or 177 000 hectares) to an average of 2.5 tonnes/ha elsewhere covering 358 000 hectares. The weighted average of overall yields, therefore, is estimated at 3.16 tonnes/ha 2. As in recent years, post-harvest losses in paddy are likely to remain high, due to lack of sufficient transport.

In 1999 the Government reported a significant fall in the area of maize planted from an average of around 650 000 hectares in the early 1990s to 496 000 hectares. The decline was attributed to substitution of potatoes for maize. Together with double cropping, such substitution is generally viewed as an important strategy to increase food supplies, particularly during the lean season beginning from June. In the 2000 season, the lack of rainfall affected maize productivity more than that of rice as the crop is largely rain-fed. Average yields in 2000 are estimated at around 2.2 tonnes per hectare, some 25 percent lower than the FAO/WFP mission estimate for 1999.

2.3 Potato, Wheat/Barley and Minor Cereal Production

In addition to rice and maize, some 65 000 hectares of other crops, sorghum and millets were cultivated this year, 45 000 hectares of which came as substitution from rice. Although these crops generally require low inputs, unfavourable rainfall and low water availability affected yields, which are estimated at around 1.0 tonne/ha. The targeted area to be planted under the 1999-2000 double crop programme is 100 000 hectares of winter wheat/barley and 23 000 hectares of spring barley/wheat. The target area for potato cultivation next year has been set at 187 000 hectares out of which 103 000 ha will be planted as the main crop and a further 77 000 hectares as a double crop. About 50 percent of this area is located in the northern provinces of Ryanggang, North and South Hamgyong and the rest in the main agricultural belt in North and South Hwangae and North and South Pyongan. Assuming an average year in 2001, Average yields of 2 tonnes per hectare for barley and wheat and 10 tonnes per hectare (fresh weight) of potatoes is assumed.

Based on the above, estimated production and forecast availability of cereals for the 2000/01 marketing year is outlined in table 1.

Table 1: DPR Korea: Cereal Area and Production1/, 2000/01

Crop
Area ('000 ha)
Yield (t/ha)
Production ('000 tonnes)
Paddy
535
3.16
1 690
Maize
496
2.1
1 041
Potato (2000)
187
10.00
1 870
Wheat and Barley double cropped 99-00
123
2.00
246
Other cereals
65
1.0
65
Paddy in milled equivalent2/
   
1 098
Potato in cereal equivalent3/
   
470
Total Production (cereal equivalent)
   
2 920
1/ No precise estimate of production from the marginal/hill cultivation areas is available. However, official indications are that these areas are included in the official land statistics provided to the Mission.
2/ Milling rate of 65 percent
3/ Potato to cereal equivalent 25 percent (4:1) rounded up.

Domestic production of cereals (including rice in milled terms and potato in cereal equivalent) for 2000/01 is estimated at 2.92 million tonnes.

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3. FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION

In contrast to 1998 and 1999, the 2000 crop season has been poor, due to a combination of drought and the cumulative effect of chronic problems in the agriculture sector. This year again, therefore, domestic production fell well below needs and the country will again have to depend heavily on external food assistance as its capacity to import commercially remains highly constrained. Food aid is an essential coping strategy for large numbers of vulnerable people, in the absence of which there would be serious consequences for their well being. Figure 5 indicates the total volume of food aid received by DPR Korea since 1995/96, compared to the FAO/WFP estimate of the overall cereal deficit. Actual food assistance as a proportion of the estimated deficit ranged from 36 percent in 1996/97 to 76 percent in 1997/98. Since 1995, the total value of emergency food aid operations, approved jointly by the Director-General of FAO and the Executive Director of WFP, amounts to over US$815 million. In addition the country has also received food aid bilaterally and through NGOs.

Note: 2000/01 food aid tonnage shown is a projection based on current estimates as of early November and includes concessional imports.

(Whilst referring to the graph, it must be noted that the difference between the estimated cereal deficit and food aid does not represent the volume covered by commercial imports , as in most years a large part of the deficit was left unmet. At the height of the crisis in 1996/97, for example, taking into account actual food aid, net domestic production and reported imports, estimated cereal availability per caput was around 25 percent below minimum requirements. For 2000/01 the deficit is based on revised official population figures and based on latest projections of pipeline food aid.

3.1 Cereal supply/demand balance, 1999/2000 (Nov/Oct)

In estimating the cereal supply/demand balance for the next marketing year (Nov.2000 to Oct.2001) the following assumption and parameters have been used;

The cereal balance sheet for the 2000-2001 marketing year (Nov/Oct) based on the above is outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: DPR Korea: Cereal balance sheet for 2000/01 (Nov/Oct)

 
(`000 tonnes)
TOTAL AVAILABILITY
2 920
Cereal Production1/
2 920
Stock draw down
0
TOTAL UTILISATION
4 785
Food use
3 871
Feed use
300
Other uses, seed and post harvest losses
614
IMPORT REQUIREMENT
1 865
Commercial import capacity
200
Concessional imports
500
Uncovered deficit
1 165
- of which unconfirmed emergency food aid pledges
600
1/ Cereal Production including potato in cereal equivalent derived from Table 3.
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4. Food Aid Needs and Role of Food Assistance

4.1 Household Food Availability

With the declining capacity of the Public Distribution System to meet food needs, other avenues such as farmer's markets and food from some factory units have increased in importance. However, this has also increased disparities, in access to food, between various population groups,. Access to food has become more competitive, mainly to the disadvantage of the urban population, who are not in close proximity to food production and have limited means to procure it. This segment of the population gives rise to most concern as they are the most vulnerable in a social safety net system which is already weak. Moreover, although food supply analysis at the macro level based on norms provides an indication of overall aggregate needs, it is not sensitive to these discrepancies. Based on available information, the indications are that the urban population have between 20 and 25 percent less cereal available per caput compared to individuals in rural areas. Household food access is also becoming more dependent on goods that can be traded, such as chickens.

Petty trade and work on co-operative farms - which is now remunerated with food allocations following a system of "work points" - are other ways to obtain more food. In addition, during field trips, the mission saw large numbers of people in harvested rice fields, collecting rice spillage. This and increasing cultivation on fragile hill areas, certainly provides evidence that the problem of hunger is far from over in DPR Korea.

In view of the discrepancies that are emerging, therefore, and the variable capacity of access to food, the most vulnerable amongst the population are at risk of becoming increasingly marginalised and more malnourished. This segment of the population, therefore, needs most consideration in the provision of food aid. Food aid should, therefore, be continually targeted to vulnerable groups, with limited assets who are still recovering from the effects of previous food shortages, who will suffer disproportionately, especially this year in view of the large decrease in domestic production and, consequently, the lower flow of food anticipated through the PDS in 2000/01. In addition, present WFP targeting of food through institutions for child care and for pregnant/nursing mothers has been highly effective and needs to be continued.

4.2 Assessment of Nutritional Requirements

To assess food needs, FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions to DPR Korea, use a yardstick of 167 kg/caput year to provide 75 percent of a minimum calorie requirement of 2 100 kcal. For emergency operations, WHO and WFP, however, normally calculate the calorie requirements taking into account the rule by which 100kcal is added for every 5 degrees centigrade below 20 degrees centigrade of environmental temperature. As the mean or average temperature in DPRK is 11 degrees centigrade, the increase would thus be 200 kcal or a total of 2300 kcal. This assumption, however, may need to be reviewed as large population groups need nutritional rehabilitation after years of low food intake. Available figures from UNICEF reveal chronic malnutrition (stunting) amongst 60 percent of children anaemia amongst 30 percent of pregnant mothers with children below 7 years. These are extreme values and only additional food intakes above the normal requirements and, most importantly, the provision of enriched foods can in the longer terms reduce these severe effects of long-term malnutrition.

To meet this additional need, it is the view of the mission that there may be justification for increasing the level of calories in future. To support such justification, however, the mission feels that it is imperative that an objective and scientific nutritional assessment be undertaken as soon as possible. Only after such an exercise can a justifiable revision of baseline needs can be made in future assessments of the food supply situation and food aid needs.

4.3 Vulnerability Analysis and Food Aid Targeting

Although aggregate supply demand analysis as presented in the balance sheet provides an overview of the food supply situation and the need for food aid over the next marketing year, it is not sensitive to variations within various population groups and the level of vulnerability. As large discrepancies exist in the access to food, the mission notes that it is also important to assess the degree of vulnerability in the country to enable better targeting of food aid in future. Vulnerability analysis could be undertaken in conjunction with the proposed nutritional survey.

4.4 Food Aid Delivery and Monitoring

The larger volume to be distributed in 2000/01, suggest that the distribution and monitoring of food aid requires a pragmatic and workable delivery system. Two main and one supplementary delivery channel are suggested.

The main distribution channels are:

The supplementary channel would be Food for Work (FFW) programmes.

The PDS-distribution during the last year covered only about 40 percent of the cereal needs. The most food insecure households depend much more on the PDS-outlet than the more advantaged population groups, who can rely also on other official food outlets and/or have sufficient incomes or exchangeable goods to procure food. The PDS-system, therefore, will continue to provide an extremely important safety net for the most vulnerable groups. Food aid - other than programme food aid - channelled through the PDS would however require specific targeting to the most vulnerable. The PDS system presently is used by WFP to target food assistance to mothers and to the elderly. All persons of this population group are covered and therefore only geographic targeting (urban areas and food deficit counties) is applied.

By far the largest part of the WFP-food assistance is presently channelled through vulnerable Group Feeding programmes. These programmes are very valuable in addressing the problems of malnutrition of groups at risk. Since however only regional and not individual targeting is possible with such kind of programmes, also in this programme the inclusion error has to be relatively high.

A more effective feeding programme addressing the severe problems of protein and micronutrient deficiencies would have to include a high share of enriched foods to be distributed to mothers and small children. WFP and two NGOs are at present supporting the local production of enriched food for children up to the age of 15 years and for pregnant and nursing mothers. Since local production capacities are still limited and output is also hampered by power cuts and breakdowns, it would be important to complement this locally produced food by specific food aid imports. The food basket provided by humanitarian assistance should also contain more protein rich commodities, like soya beans or pulses. Milk powder, so far as a hygienic preparation can be assured with the receiving institutions, would be a very valuable input for school feeding and in kindergartens.

Food aid is only distributed to accessible counties. Monitoring of food aid provides an important means to refine food aid targeting, particularly in view of variation in the availability of food through out the country. In general the quality of access has improved, with greater flexibility in visiting arrangements and more visits allowed to rural beneficiaries. The mission notes, however, that more random visits, within accessible counties would allow better ways for appraising needs and vulnerability, which will benefit future targeting of assistance. Of a total of 211 counties, WFP currently has access to 163, covering an estimated 84 percent of the population live. Since March 1998 there has bee a gradual increase in access for monitoring purposes from 151 counties to the present 163.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Abdur Rashid
Chief, GIEWS FAO
Telex 610181 FAO I
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail: GIEWS1@FAO.ORG

Mr. John M. Powell
Regional Director, OAE, WFP
Telex: 626675 WFP 1
Fax: 0039-06-6513-2863
E-Mail: John.Powell@WFP.ORG

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1 Based on WHO technical report no. 724, Energy and Protein Requirements, Report of a joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation, published in 1985. Ref. WHO "The Management of Nutrition in Major Emergencies" 2000.

2 ((4.5 t/ha x 177 000 ha) + (2.5 t/ha x 358 000))/535 000 ha .

3 Although the population figure is lower than earlier estimates used in FAO/WFP assessments, the official figure is used as it incorporates an estimate for mortality and assumes a lower fertility rate which is consistent with current food availability and the health of the population.