11 December 2003, Rome -- Hunger and undernourishment could rise in North Korea in 2004 if projects to produce food are not being funded, FAO warned in a statement issued today.

"The consequences of not funding the FAO appeal for agricultural projects amounting to $3.5 million could be disastrous for around 1.8 million people living in rural areas," said Michael Stapleton, FAO programme coordinator in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"Increasing agricultural production could partly reduce the needs for food aid," he said.

For the next spring/summer season, funds are urgently needed to increase crop and vegetable production and reduce post-harvest losses. This would help to alleviate food shortages during the lean period from August to October.

The main cereal crops in the country are rice and maize. These are planted during summer, with double cropping of winter wheat followed by spring barley and potatoes. This planting pattern is known as 'Double Cropping', which has led to increased food availability and better nutrition in the lean season.

Double cropping at risk

Donor support would enable farmers to continue the double cropping programme, carried out successfully by FAO since 1997.

Double cropping is applied on some 220 000 hectares, about 18 percent of the agricultural fields. It has led to production increases of about 15 percent. The success of double cropping is however heavily relying on inputs such as mineral fertilizers, Stapleton said.

"FAO has been providing hundreds, often thousands of tonnes of fertilizers in the past years. These amounts are important, because they supplement larger quantities of bilateral fertilizer donations, which sometimes are uncertain," he said.

Funding would also permit FAO to continue Integrated Pest Management, to protect crops from diseases by applying less pesticides and more environmentally-friendly methods. FAO also intends to promote organic soil fertility programmes, aimed at reducing the use of fertilizer.

Losses after harvest

Post-harvest losses for rice are estimated at more than 15 percent, primarily due to unreliable power supply at threshing centres. FAO is planning to reduce post-harvest losses by re-equipping 50 farm cooperatives with simple threshing machines.

Rural families are facing the problem of storing potato seeds. Considerable amounts of seeds have been lost due to temperatures below zero in winter. Farms currently store potato seeds in their homes. FAO intends to support the construction of underground storages.

Millions need assistance

According to a recent FAO report, North Korea's 2003/04 cereal production is forecast at 4.16 million tonnes, the best harvest over the last nine years. Despite agricultural recovery over the last three years, domestic production still falls well below the minimum food needs.

North Korea will again have to depend on substantial external food assistance. The cereal deficit in 2003/04 (November/October) is estimated at 944 000 tonnes.

Some 6.5 million vulnerable people will require food aid next year. Malnourishment in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is especially widespread among children.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105