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North Korea still needs food aid, despite improved harvests

"Despite an improved harvest, DPR Korea will enter 1999 with a large food deficit with domestic cereal production covering minimum consumption needs of the population for only eight months," according to the latest FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Special Report from the country.

This year's cereal harvests are estimated at 3.48 million tonnes, just over 30 percent up on last year's severely reduced crop of 2.66 million tonnes. The FAO/WFP assessment mission that visited the country in October, found that "a combination of beneficial weather conditions and international assistance with fertilizers has led to some recovery in this year's harvest".

Nevertheless, imports of some 1.35 million tonnes of food grain will be needed in 1998/99, including 1.05 million tonnes as food asssistance.

The report calls for targeted food aid - some 480 000 tonnes primarily for children, hospital patients, and pregnant and nursing women. The remaining cereal shortfall will be needed to help the general population meet its minimum needs. Much will be given as food-for-work.

Korean civilians, other than cooperative farmers and their dependents, receive cereal allocations through the public distribution system (PDS). Before 1995, average cereal allocation per head was 260 kg per year - over 700 g daily.

"With availability of cereals precipitously declining in the marketing year 1997/98, allocations to PDS centres dropped drastically as the year progressed", according to the report. "The per caput provision was 400 g per day during varying periods in November/December 1997. But it was reduced to 300 g per day in January 1998, and 200 g per day in February, 100 g per day in March." Between mid March and August there was no distribution at all.

The report stresses that food aid is only a short-term palliative to DPR Korea's ills, which are born of major economic problems and "a deep rooted structural malaise", compounded by the natural disasters of recent years.

"To ensure future food security, it is imperative that the international assistance to agriculture be increased substantially from its current low levels", the report says. Furthermore, "solutions that address the major economic difficulties" are crucial.

Farmers turn back to manual labour and draft animal power

Meanwhile the people of DPR Korea have their own coping mechanisms. Farmers are increasingly using draught animals or manual labour in the fields, in place of obsolete or unrepairable farm machinery. The report notes that the government is encouraging the use of animal power, although animal health tends to be poor because of feed problems. Families are also increasingly using home gardens to grow foodcrops such as green vegetables and potatoes to compensate for the lack of cereals. Surplus vegetables are sold at the market.

The government is also now discouraging farmers from raising monogastric livestock, such as pigs, that require valuable, high-quality grains for feed. Instead, they are encouraging farmers to increase ruminant herds, particularly goats. Goats can graze on pastures on hill slopes, which have a limited potential for crop production.

(Go to the Special Report)

25 November 1998

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