GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 
 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 280

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply conditions give rise to concern)

COUNTRY: KOREA, D.P.R.

DATE : 6 March 1998


SERIOUS CONCERNS FOR FOOD SUPPLIES AS STOCKS RUN LOW

In the aftermath of a severe drought, an FAO/WFP Mission last November warned that seriously reduced food production would only cover minimum needs for seven months, leaving the country with large dependence on food imports and aid in 1998. Although a milder than normal winter helped ease a situation that could have been more difficult, there are mounting concerns at increased food shortages and malnutrition developing in vulnerable groups as the lean season approaches and food stocks and rations fall. Based on its earlier assessment and more recent information from the country, FAO projects that grain stocks will be near depletion by late April/early May. This will make the country entirely dependent on food imports, mostly aid, until the next harvest in September/October.

Against a food import requirement of some 1.95 million tonnes of cereals estimated by the November Mission for 1997/98 (November/October), some 270 000 tonnes of grain have already been delivered in food assistance, whilst a further 175 000 have been pledged in response to a recent UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal.  In addition, although precise data are not available, it is estimated that since November there have also been some commercial imports of grain. In relation to needs, however, the volume of such imports is unlikely to have been large given the scale of present economic and foreign exchange difficulties facing the country. In recent years, informal cross border barter trade has also been a significant source of food imports and supply, especially in provinces neighbouring China. However, it is probable that the volume of such imports will diminish as tradable resources, like timber, become increasingly depleted and inaccessible, and supplies from northern China become tighter due to a drought-reduced harvest last year.

Early prospects for the next crop season due to begin in May depend considerably on the availability of irrigation water on which key land preparation and planting operations depend heavily. The water levels in large numbers of irrigation reservoirs, however, still remain grossly inadequate, as a result of last year’s drought and poor replenishment due to the mild winter and reduced snowfall this year. Much will depend on rainfall from June to September during which the country receives most of its annual precipitation. In addition, as productivity and output in agriculture continue to be seriously compromised by deep-seated economic difficulties, that limit supplies of essential inputs to the sector, prospects for a significant recovery in food production in 1998 do not appear promising. An FAO team plans to visit Korea, D.P.R. in May/June to assess early crop prospects for 1998 and review the food situation.

In the short term there is a continued need for food aid to vulnerable groups. In the last three years of natural calamities, declining food production and growing economic difficulties, the people of Korea, D.P.R. have had to face a dramatic reduction in food rations and intake. These in turn have resulted in severe hardship and rapidly declining nutritional standards. Perhaps the most important reason that the incidence of chronic malnutrition has not become more widespread and entrenched in the population has been the unprecedented level of food assistance to the country. However, in spite of considerable anecdotal evidence of nutritional deficiencies in the country, no reliable estimates of the extent of the problem exist. There is an urgent need to undertake a random, representative assessment of the nutritional situation in the country.

FAO continues to stress the importance of short and medium term international assistance to Korea, D.P.R. to help stabilise its food and agriculture situation. In this regard, assistance for agricultural rehabilitation and the provision of essential inputs such as seeds, fertilisers 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 US$1 million has been provided for 3 100 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 crop of barley to be grown in the period March to June. Pledges for the remainder of the appeal for revitalising 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.
 
Notwithstanding the relevance and importance of short and medium term interventions, future food security in Korea, D.P.R. 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.

 
 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required. 

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