Korea DPR faces grim food outlook for 1998, works with FAO to launch agricultural recovery

"The future for food supply in Korea DPR appears grim - with or without emergencies", unless much needed investment and industrial development arrives quickly, according to a UN mission just back from visiting main agricultural areas in the country to assess short and longer term food supply prospects. A second mission has proposed a number of projects to spur food production and rural development as part of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security.

The worst drought in decades - rainfall in the summer months was less than one-third of the long-term average - has reduced forecast 1997 maize output to 1.14 million tonnes, the lowest on record. Rice yields were less affected as the crop is largely irrigated. Typhoons and tidal waves also wreaked havoc in agricultural areas. This is the third year in a row in which food production has fallen. In both 1995 and 1996 key agricultural zones in the south were hit by devastating floods.

"Food production will only cover minimum needs for seven months", according to the Special Report based on the findings of an FAO/World Food Programme mission to the country in October/November 1997. Substantial cereal imports, including food aid, will again be needed in 1997/98 to meet minimum nutritional needs of the population of just over 23 million. The report puts the required figure at 1.95 million tonnes.

The report emphasizes that recent natural emergencies have only hastened an already accelerated economic decline, particularly after the collapse of preferential trading and economic ties with the former Soviet Union. Economic difficulties in the 1990s have eroded the country's ability to buy food or raw materials, such as fuel and fertilizers, that are essential to maintaining agricultural production and distribution. Transportation within the country has ground to almost a complete halt because of the lack of fuel.

In the short term, food assistance to vulnerable groups is essential, says the report, but "it is vital that the government address the major issue of how the industrial sector is to be revamped to generate much needed foreign exchange and support domestic food production."

With a view to the longer term, FAO's Investment Centre, which assists developing countries by mobilizing extra resources for agricultural and rural development, also fielded a mission to Korea DPR to lay the groundwork for the pilot phase of FAO's Special Food Programme for Food Security. The programme is designed to improve national food production and food security quickly in low-income food-deficit countries through the use of new and improved technologies.

The Investment Centre team, which included several Chinese specialists, visited six cooperative farms in high-potential areas of North and South Hwangae and South Pyongan provinces, and a major hatchery for freshwater fish. Projects proposed for these selected sites include support to multiple cropping; integrated soil fertility management; animal nutrition; water management; and aquaculture.

Under the South-South cooperation initiative of the Special Programme, key Korea DPR officials and managers are expected to travel to Sichuan Province in China to learn from the experience of pilot areas in that country. They would also visit selected agricultural areas and research activities in Liaoning Province, which borders North Korea, and an urban organic waste recycling factory in Beijing. The study tour is scheduled for late February 1998.

10 December 1997

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