12 November 1998


  • DPR Korea’s cereal production in 1998 is estimated at 3.48 million tonnes compared to last year’s severely reduced crop of 2.66 million tonnes.

  • 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.

  • Import of some 1.35 million tonnes of food grain will be needed in 1998/99, including 1.05 million tonnes as food assistance.

  • Adequate targeted food aid will be needed to ensure minimum nutritional needs of the vulnerable groups most at risk by the food shortages and in support of food-for-work activities.

  • Agricultural recovery, rehabilitation and development need urgent attention and adequate support to enable the country to produce enough food to meet its minimum needs.

  • On a more immediate basis, attention needs to be focused on improving agricultural input supplies, mainly fertilisers, spare parts and fuel.


The combination of economic decline and natural disasters in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since 1995, have seriously compromised national food security. Although the unprecedented volume of food aid and international assistance for agriculture recovery has undoubtedly helped ease the situation, the country still faces a precarious food outlook.

An earlier FAO/WFP mid-season assessment of crop and food prospects in June warned that even under favourable weather conditions, chronic shortages of essential agricultural inputs would compromise food production this year leaving the country with a large food deficit. In addition, the severity of economic problems facing the country and its seriously reduced capacity to import food commercially meant that a large part of the deficit would need to be covered by food assistance.

A follow-up FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the country from 10 to 27 October 1998, to assess the 1998 final harvest and evaluate food supply prospects for 1998/99. The assessment was based on discussions with Government Ministries and Departments, provincial and county officials, co-operative management and farmers, UN agencies, bilateral donors, NGOs working in the country, and on field visits to selected areas. Random visits were made to the households in both urban and rural areas. The Mission visited 8 of the country’s 12 provinces & municipalities including South Hamyong, Kangwon, South and North Hwangae, South Pyongan, Kaesang, Kandong and Pyongyang. The areas assessed collectively account for some 75 percent of the country’s rice and maize production. Landsat satellite images produced in 1998 by the UNEP at the US Geological Survey EROS Data Centre were used to verify the area under paddy.

The Mission found that a combination of beneficial weather conditions and international assistance with fertilisers has led to some recovery in this year’s harvest. The 1998/99 cereal production is forecast at 3.48 million tonnes (including rice in milled equivalent), some 30 percent higher than last year’s severely reduced crop. This comprises 1 341 000 tonnes of milled rice (2 063 000 tonnes of paddy), 1 765 000 tonnes of maize and a projected 375 000 tonnes of double cropped wheat and barley. In spite of the improvement in production, however, there still remains a shortfall of some 1 354 000 tonnes to meet minimum food needs, which will need to be covered by imports. Although the country is expected to cover part of the deficit through commercial imports, it will still require considerable food assistance in the marketing year 1998/99 (November/October). Apart from foreign exchange constraints that limit commercial imports, economic decline also means that barter trade using industrial material such as steel is becoming a progressively less viable option. As a result, commercial imports in 1998/99 are likely to be limited, at best, amounting to 300 000 tonnes of cereals. The gap remaining is therefore about 1.05 million tonnes of cereals. Food assistance is needed to address this gap so that a minimum consumption level is assured for the population, particularly for the vulnerable groups.

In addition, to ensure future food security, it is imperative that the international assistance to agriculture be increased substantially from its current low levels. In this context, the UNDP-led Round Table (held in Geneva in May 1998) and a follow-up meeting scheduled for 30 November 1998 in support of Agricultural Recovery and Environmental Protection (AREP) is an important initiative towards a strategic approach.

The targeted food assistance that the Mission recommends for 1998/99, includes 480 000 tonnes of cereals and cereal products of which some 360 000 tonnes are pledged and in the pipeline leaving 120 000 tonnes cereals remaining to be resourced for consumption by 31 October 1999. These cereals will be used to provide targeted assistance to children in nurseries, kindergartens, children centres and primary schools, resident patients in hospitals and pregnant and nursing women and for undertaking food-for-work activities in support of the recovery of agricultural sector. This recommendation is based on the assessed needs of 171 of the 211 counties to which the donor community is expected to have access to monitor its assistance. The actual volume of targeted food aid would need to be adjusted on the basis of the access granted to the donors to monitor activities supported with their donations. In addition, the Mission recommends programme food aid to meet the remaining cereal shortfall of 574 000 tonnes which may be channelled through the Public Distribution System for general distribution to help the population meet its minimum nutritional requirements.

Despite continued limitation on access to certain areas, there has, as a result of interactions over the past few years, emerged a better understanding between the Government and the UN system regarding how the assistance programmes should be implemented with transparency and accountability. Efforts by both sides towards further improving co-operative relationships will ensure more effective designing and implementation of food and development assistance programmes to address both immediate food shortages and future developmental needs.

Notwithstanding the importance of short and medium term interventions, the Mission contends that future food security in DPR Korea will crucially depend on solutions that address the major economic difficulties. In the absence of these, even without natural hazards, the food supply situation will remain highly precarious as the productivity in agriculture falls and the capacity of the country to finance commercial food imports dwindles and barter trade becomes a progressively less viable option.


1/ In view of the scant information available on DPR Korea, the contents of this section are based on a variety of sources including the latest available Europa Publication on the Far East, the EIU, Country Profile for DPR/ In view of the scant information available on DPR Korea, the contents of this section are based on a variety of sources including the latest available Europa Publication on the Far East, the EIU, Country Profile for DPR

The economy of DPR Korea made vigorous strides from around the mid-1950s, with both agriculture and industry growing rapidly. Although the earlier high growth rates were not sustained since the mid-1970s, the per caput GDP of DPR Korea is reported to have reached US$1 250 by 1989. By then, manufacturing industry had made a substantial headway accounting for 27-30 percent of the GDP. Similar contributions were made by agriculture and services respectively, with the balance of 10 percent coming from utilities (electricity, gas, water supply, etc.) and construction. These figures indicate a diversified pattern of economic growth.

By contrast, the economy showed a serious decline since the early 1990s. The consecutive major natural disasters in the form of floods in 1995 and 1996 and tidal waves and drought in 1997, coming as they did on top of several years of slowdown and stagnation, shattered the economy and brought into focus the underlying structural problems. The economy has since contracted substantially. Data are hard to come by, but it appears that per caput GDP is now probably less than half of 1989.

It is now recognised that the natural disasters during 1995 to 1997 in fact compounded the underlying structural problems besetting the economy. For one thing, machinery and equipment in industry, agriculture and other sectors were mostly procured and installed in the 1950s and 1960s, which are now obsolete or in poor condition. In many cases, spare parts are needed just to keep the machines or equipment in operation; in other cases, without modernisation and rehabilitation, their operation is not possible; and in still other cases, outright replacement is necessary.

A major economic setback for DPR Korea has been the weakening of the favourable economic relations with the former USSR and former centrally planned economies in eastern Europe, which had yielded large aid and trade benefits to DPR Korea, facilitating its high economic growth in the past. Barter trade with China has also declined in the wake of Chinese economic reforms. As a result, the economy is now faced with a large and trade deficit, and low foreign exchange reserves and credit worthiness. These problems are symptomatic of a deep rooted structural malaise, which constrain the country’s ability to address its urgent economic needs. It is in this larger context that the agriculture sector’s current difficulties and future prospects should be gauged.

Agriculture in DPR Korea is organised as co-operative and state farms and has historically been mainly focused on paddy and maize. To attain food self-sufficiency, agricultural modernisation was pursued, emphasising four major growth augmenting factors – irrigation, electrification, chemicalization (fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, etc.) and mechanisation. A high level of success was achieved in the seventies and early eighties. Irrigation was extended (reaching 70 percent or more of the cultivated land by 1970); sufficient numbers of tractors (a total of 75 000 or more) , transplanters, threshers, trucks and other farm machinery were provided; rural electrification was expanded rapidly (covering all rural areas by 1970 or so); and fertilisers and other chemicals were made available in large quantities. Naturally enough, this high input-based agriculture began to experience lower yields once it was no longer possible to maintain those levels of inputs due to resource constraints. On top of that, floods, droughts and extreme cold spells have in recent years triggered major dislocations, disruptions and production losses. To revive and rejuvenate the agricultural sector, what is needed, therefore, is both to repair the damages caused by the natural hazards and to address the structural difficulties.

Agricultural rehabilitation is a medium to longer term proposition, but the process should be initiated/strengthened urgently and in right earnest so as to enable the country to produce enough food to meet its minimum requirements. In this context, the UNDP-led Geneva Round Table (May 1998) and its follow-up programmes for overall economic and specially agricultural rehabilitation and development in the country is an initiative with high potential. However, it is also crucial, in the interim, that the international community address the immediate food assistance requirements caused by inadequate food production. The country’s commercial import capacity is seriously constrained; and international assistance will need to be phased out carefully in consonance with the increase in domestic production and with the pace of revival of the economy. In this context, it must be stressed that the international emergency and rehabilitation assistance provided since 1995 has avoided a worse food crisis in the country.

Given the limited land area, increases in agricultural production can only come from intensive cultivation and increased yields. There seems to be little alternative to a high-input agriculture and increased cropping intensity. But, high doses of fertilisers and other chemicals coupled with mono-culture, which is largely the case in the country, may cause further soil degradation, eventually leading to lower yields despite high inputs. Thus, although a high chemicals-using agriculture, focussed on paddy and maize may be promoted in the medium term, it would be desirable to increase the use of organic fertiliser, promote less chemical fertiliser-dependent crop varieties (some of which have already been introduced on a limited scale) and a diversified cropping pattern over the long term. In this context, research and development activities assume critical importance. This issue needs to be kept in perspective as the agricultural rehabilitation process progresses.

During field visits and interviews the Mission was informed that the shortage of fertiliser was the most serious problem for domestic food production. The total capacity of the three fertiliser factories that DPR Korea has is over 400 000 tonnes of nitrogen nutrient, enough for self-sufficiency. But the operation of these factories is seriously constrained by plant obsolescence, poor maintenance, shortages of spare parts and shortages of raw materials, principally petroleum. The capacity of the country to import fuel is also limited. Hence, the overall fertiliser availability for 1998 has dwindled in spite of some supplies provided in 1998 through an IFAD project. Modernisation of two of the fertiliser factories is on the agenda of the Geneva Roundtable follow-up programme and deserves donor support.

Other problems facing the agriculture sector are: non-availability of spare parts and breakdown of machinery, shortage of fuel, irrigation difficulties and shortage of pesticides. The problem with mechanisation looms large, the situation being characterised by non-functioning or poor functioning of farm machinery and equipment and irrigation pumps. The industrial base established in DPR Korea had enabled the country to mechanise agriculture in a major way. But economic difficulties experienced in the 1990s, exacerbated by the recent natural calamities, has eroded the industrial as well as the agricultural mechanisation base. Although difficult to quantify, the breakdown of the "mechanisation" input, down probably to about 20 percent of motorised capacity, has been a major factor compromising the timely completion of field operations, and leading to reduced yields and increased harvesting and post-harvest losses. In order to respond to the mechanisation problem, there has been recourse to additional manual labour and work animals. Putting the existing agricultural machinery back into operation will require (a) sufficient fuel supplies to put in operation all of the agricultural machinery that is still in good condition and (b) raw materials and equipment permitting manufacturers of spare parts and components to mobilise the machinery which can be used only if repaired and rehabilitated. Over the medium to longer term, most of the agricultural machinery will need to be replaced.


In DPR Korea, staple food consists of rice and maize. These two crops constitute the main food grains produced in the country, accounting for almost two-thirds of the country’s total arable land of about 2 million hectares. Rice is grown mostly on the flat plains in the south, while maize grows mostly on the slopes. Rice, which is widely irrigated, is transplanted during mid-May to early June and harvested from late September to October. By contrast, maize is largely rainfed; its planting takes place from mid-April to early May and harvesting from end-August to mid-September. Clearly, a poor performance of rains affects maize more than rice. Thus, the 1997 drought had a devastating effect on maize production, while it has been the breakdown of the irrigation system due to lack of spare parts and fuel that has been causing the bulk of the damage to rice production.

3.1 Rainfall and localised floods

In DPR Korea, an intensive rainfall period, as a result of a cyclonic effect from the west, usually spans the period from July to end-August. This period is normally followed by a low rainfall season during autumn (October-November). Winter periods (December-February) are normally characterised by very low rainfall and an extremely harsh and cold climate. Rainfall gradually increases in spring (March-June). Chart 1 shows the rainfall in 1998 compared to the long term pattern.

Undisplayed Graphic

The normal rainfall pattern suffered severe disruptions during 1995-97, including extensive flooding in 1995 and 1996 and the worst drought for decades in 1997. It returned to normal in 1998. However it should be stressed that as a result of torrential rains during July-August 1998, localised floods occurred in certain areas, notably on the east coast, submerging crops for periods ranging from a few hours to over two days. A crop area of 30 000 hectares is reported to have been substantially damaged on the east coast. On the whole, however, crop production in 1998 was helped by generally favourable weather. At the same time, the potential beneficial effect of favourable weather was largely offset by input constraints relating to irrigation, fertiliser availability, use of machinery and equipment, seed quality and availability of plastic sheets. As a result, the agricultural productivity has not recovered as much as it could have given the favourable weather conditions.

3.2 Irrigation

Energy is a critical factor in the country’s irrigation system. Water has to be pumped into the main canals and reservoirs. But the availability of fuel has been declining. Moreover, the conditions of canals and pumping stations have been deteriorating because of natural calamities, while the pumping stations and the feeding steel pipes have suffered from a lack of spare parts and poor maintenance. The Mission found that water pumping hours and, hence, the supply of irrigation water to crop fields have seriously declined.

3.3 Fertilisers

Domestic production of fertilisers is severely constrained by machinery obsolescence, lack of spare parts and a shortage of the main raw material, petroleum. Definitive figures are hard to come by but the availability of fertilisers has shown a further decline in 1998 from the already low volume in1997. In terms of nutrient content, the availability in 1998 was only about 18 percent of the 1989 level.

Undisplayed Graphic

Of the international fertiliser assistance, the major portion came through an IFAD project and was distributed to selected Class I and Class II lands. The critical importance of fertiliser in the DPR Korea’s agriculture become particularly clear from the fact that the IFAD project beneficiaries (cultivating about 10 percent of lands under paddy), with the benefit of larger fertiliser availability, have been able to obtain paddy yields substantially higher than average.

Side by side with its efforts to provide as much chemical fertilisers as possible to the agriculture sector, the Government has also been promoting paddy varieties with lower fertiliser needs and an increased use of organic fertilisers (which would also assist in recouping soil fertility) as alternative agricultural productivity support measures. However, these efforts are still limited in scope and the availability of chemical fertilisers remains a major constraint to agricultural productivity.

3.4 Seeds

Availability of seeds has not generally been a problem in 1998, but the seed quality has not been as good as in the previous years. In view of high plant densities, seed application rate of 125 kg/ha in the case of paddy and 45 kg/ha in the case of maize have been a standard practice throughout the country. But, it was found during field interviews that some co-operatives were using seeding rates of up to 150 kg/ha for paddy and 60 kg/ha for maize as a measure to mitigate seed quality problems and cold weather effects. The availability of plastic sheets needed for covering seed beds during very cold weather has been very limited in 1998, causing recourse to higher seeding rates.

3.5 Mechanisation

The highly mechanised DPR Korea agriculture faces a serious constraint as about four-fifths of the motorised farm machinery and equipment is out of use due to obsolescence and lack of spare parts and fuel. During field visits, the Mission saw a large proportion of tractors, transplanters, trucks and other farm machinery lying unused and unusable. In fact, because of non-availability of trucks, harvested paddy has been seen left on the fields in piles for long periods – three weeks or more - resulting in large post-harvest losses.

Work animals are now being increasingly used in place of farm machinery. The Government is encouraging this practice, but the draught power remained quite limited in 1998. Moreover, animal health tends to be poor due to feed problems. The other mechanism used to circumvent the shortages of machinery has been to mobilise much greater human labour than had been the practice in the past.

3.6 Pests and diseases

Although it was earlier suspected that, due to the 1997/98 winter being characterised by higher than normal temperatures, the incidence of pests and diseases would be higher in the 1998 agricultural season because those temperatures might not destroy the cysts, eggs and spores, in reality, pests and diseases have not been a cause for concern in 1998. Only a limited incidence of pests and diseases and insignificant crop losses as a result have been reported.

3.7 Area and production of paddy and maize

3.7.1 Area cultivated

Only some 20 percent of the land area of DPR Korea can be cultivated. The rest is predominantly mountainous, offering extremely limited scope for agricultural expansion. The arable area amount to some 2 million hectares, though only about 1.4 million hectares is suitable for cereal production. The rest is principally under fruit production and mulberry trees for sericulture.

Due to geographical limitations, the cultivated area under paddy and maize in state and co-operative farms remained more or less constant in the past. However, following the serious food shortages of recent years, an attempt was made to cultivate maize on steep hill slopes. But it has been quickly recognised that apart from the environmental impact of such a practice (i.e. soil erosion and increased probability of flooding) productivity in such cases is very low and the contribution to domestic production insignificant. The Government’s policy is, therefore, to abandon the cultivation of maize on slopes with gradients above 15 degrees and put these areas under pastures and forests. In 1998, although the Government planned to reduce the area under maize to 593 000 hectares and to divert it under pastures, such a target did not materialise due to a shortage of grass seed. The total area planted with maize in 1998 is estimated by the Mission at 629 000 hectares, which is lower than the estimated 650 000 hectares in 1997 but higher than the planned area by 36 000 hectares. Due to various problems related to cultivation, namely the breakdown of mechanisation, the estimated area under paddy in 1998, at 580 000 hectares, is also lower than in 1997 (601 00 hectares). The estimates of the areas of paddy and maize cultivated in 1998 by province are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: DPR Korea – Area cultivated of paddy and maize by Province/Municipality, 1998

Paddy Maize
Area (ha) % Area (ha) %
Pyongyang 26 000 4.5 16 000 2.5
South Pyongan 95 000 16.4 67 000 10.8
North Pyongan 97 000 16.7 97 000 15.4
Chagang 7 000 1.2 39 000 6.2
South Hwanghae 147 000 25.4 88 000 14.0
North Hwanghae 47 000 8.1 75 000 11.9
Kangwon 36 000 6.2 41 000 6.5
South Hamgyong 60 000 10.3 53 000 8.4
North Hamgyong 25 000 4.3 53 000 8.4
Ryanggang 2 000 0.3 4 000 0.6
Kaesong 12 000 2.1 7 000 1.1
Nampo 15 000 2.5 8 000 1.3
Other 1/ 11 000 2.0 81 000 12.9
TOTAL 580 000 100 629 0001/ 100

1/Mission estimate based on official figures provided to the last FAO/WFP Mission, adjusted for 21 000 hectares of land not yet reclaimed since 1995 and 1996 floods. Small parcels of maize area on hill slopes under Forest Department were also reported to the Mission, but exact estimates are not available.

Classification of land cultivated to paddy and maize in 1998 is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Classification of paddy and maize areas cultivated

Land type
Paddy Maize
Area (ha) % Area (ha) %
Good: Class I 188 000 32.4 202 000 32.1
Moderate: Class II 195 000 33.6 195 00 31.5
Poor: Class III 197 000 34.0 229 000 36.4
TOTAL 580 000 100.0 629 000 100.0

Note: Class I Lands: Flat and/or levelled, good soil, irrigated, farm machinery and equipment routinely used.
Class II Lands: Flat or undulated (gradient 0 to 10 degrees), irrigated or unirrigated, good to moderate soil, farm machinery and equipment often used.
Class III Lands: Sloped and hilly (flat for paddy), no irrigation except for paddy, unsatisfactory soil, farm machinery or equipment not normally used.

3.7.2 Yields and Production

Sample measurements were carried out by the Mission in selected co-operatives as well as randomly chosen locations along the roads in the provinces visited (South Hamgyong, Kangwon, South Pyongan, North Hwangae, South Hwangae, Municipality of Kaesong, and Kandon county under Pyongyang City Administration). All types of lands have been covered in this exercise. At the time of the Mission’s visit, while paddy was still found in many fields, the maize had been harvested and was mostly measured taking samples from threshing houses. Based on these measurements, field observations, land and soil characteristics and discussions with farmers and officials of co-operatives, average per hectare yields of paddy and maize for different types of lands have been estimated. Table 3 reports the findings concerning yields and production for paddy and maize.

Table 3: Paddy and maize area, yield and production, 1998

Land type
Paddy Maize Total cereal production (‘000 tonnes)
Area (‘000 ha) Yield (kg/ha) Production (‘000 tonnes) Area (‘000 ha) Yield (kg/ha) Production (‘000 tonnes)
Class I 188 5 200 978 202 3 500 707 1 685
Class II 195 3 300 644 198 2 800 554 1 198
Class III 197 2 650 522 229 2 200 504 1 026
Sub-total 580 3 700 2 144 629 2 800 1 765 3 909
Less production loss on 30 000 ha 1/ - (2 700) (81) - - - -
Total 580 3 560 2 063 629 2 800 1 765 3 828
Total in milled equivalent

1 341

1 765

3 106
Plus double cropped wheat and barley production

Grand total 2/

3 481

1/ Of the total area cultivated to paddy (580 000 hectares), 30 000 hectares suffered crop damage. While the average yield of 3 700 kg/ha was applied to 550 000 hectares, only 1 000 kg/ha is assumed to have been realised from the damaged 30 000 hectares. After adjusting for 30 000 hectares of damaged crops, the paddy production is estimated at 2 063 000 tonnes, equivalent to 1 341 000 tonnes of milled rice.
2/ Includes rice in milled equivalent.

The estimated average yield rate of paddy, at 3 560 kg/ha, is significantly lower than in 1997 (3.90 tonnes/ha). Major reasons for the low yield in 1998 are reduced availability of inputs, including critical shortages of chemical fertiliser. However, international assistance in providing fertilisers, the efforts of the Government in supplying increased doses of organic fertilisers, and the highly intensive crop husbandry and larger labour inputs, aided by favourable weather, helped keep the average yield from declining further in 1998. In the case of maize, the IFAD project did not provide any fertiliser, but some government supplies were made available. With input supplies not improved, it was in fact mainly favourable weather along with intensive crop husbandry that helped the average maize yield rate to recover to 2 800 kg/ha in 1998 from the drought-reduced level of 1 750 kg/ha in 1997. However, average maize yields in 1998 remained significantly lower than the average levels realised during 1995/96 (3 530 kg/ha).

3.8 Double Cropping Programme

The Double Cropping Programme was initiated in 1996 jointly by the UN agencies and the Government of DPR Korea and was fully supported in 1997 as an important initiative for increased food production in view of the extremely limited land potential for additional cultivation. The programme was launched initially for the spring barley production and expanded subsequently in 1998 to include the Autumn/winter wheat and barley cultivation. The principal aim of the Double Cropping Programme is to utilise agricultural land available between October to June for additional cereal crop production to be succeeded by paddy and maize cultivation from June onwards. The result of the 1997 and 1998 Double Cropping Programme has been generally positive and is planned to be expanded in 1999 to include crop diversification through potato, pulses and vegetable production.

The double cropped area increased from 38 000 hectares in 1997 to 70 000 hectares in 1998. The target for the 1998 autumn/winter wheat and barley production is 100 000 hectares. In addition, the Double Cropping and Crop Diversification Programme for the spring/summer 1999 includes increased cereal production through the cultivation of 50 000 hectares of barley/wheat production, 20 000 hectares of rice and 60 000 hectares of maize. The success of the 1998/99 Double Cropping Programme in achieving the stated target will depend crucially on adequate and timely donor support.

The Mission fully supports the Double Cropping and Crop Diversification Programme in order to intensify and diversify cropping patterns of arable land through double, inter-cropping and crop diversification methods as part of an overall strategy for agricultural recovery and sustained development in DPR Korea.

3.9 Other foodcrops

With the production and availability of cereals drastically reduced in recent years, the importance of other foodcrops in the food economy of DPR Korea has increased. Production of potatoes and green vegetables are receiving particular emphasis but soybeans and sweet potatoes are also grown.

The Mission found that family plots have been utilised for growing these crops more and more intensively in recent years, with a view to improving household food security. Households also sell surplus vegetables that they may have in farmers’ markets.

3.10 Livestock

The general Government policy for the livestock sector is now to generally discourage mono-gastric animals which require grains for feed and to encourage increased ruminant herds, particularly goats. The added advantage in the case of goats is that they can graze on pastures on hill slopes, which have a limited potential for crop production.

Certainly the number of livestock has decreased markedly in recent years, largely because less grain has been available for feed. According to Government estimates, between 1996 and 1997 there were significant drops in the number of the country’s livestock of all kinds, except for goats. The data for the two years on the number of various types of livestock provided by the DPR Korea Government are reproduced in Table 4. Data for 1998 are not available but, based on the Mission’s field observations, the number of goats is likely to show a further significant increase and that of mono-gastric animals a further decline.

Table 4: Livestock in DPR Korea, 1996 and 1997

1996 1997 % change 1997
over 1996
Oxen 615 000 545 000 -11.4
Cows 14 000 - -
Pigs 2 674 000 1 859 000 -30.5
Sheep 248 000 160 000 -35.5
Goats 712 000 1 077 000 51.3
Rabbits 3 056 000 2 740 000 -10.4
Chicken 8 871 000 7 547 000 -14.9
Duck 1 098 000 822 000 -25.1
Geese 554 000 357 000 -35.6

Scarcity of feed means that livestock receive limited quantities of grain and are fed by-products such as bare maize cobs, stalks and grass. But pigs and draught animals, for example, need better feed, including some grains for maintaining productive stock and energy reserves. The Government now encourages an increased use of work animals (e.g. oxen) mitigate the consequences of the collapse of agricultural mechanisation. With animal draught power becoming increasingly important for farm operations, some provision of higher energy grain is necessary for them.

Although poultry is heavily dependent on grain for feed, the Mission found more then on its previous visit households rearing a few chicken or rabbits in 1998 in order to enlarge the sources of protein in the diet, or to sell these to buy other necessities from farmers’ markets.


4.1 Food supply situation 1998/99

The capacity of DPR Korea to ensure an adequate provision of food to its population continues to be beset by two important constraints (i) the shortage of agricultural inputs to produce food domestically and (ii) the reduced capacity of the economy to supplement domestic food production through commercial imports. Food security in the country, therefore, critically depends on general economic performance and the efforts to increase domestic food production.

Natural hazards during the past three years (1995-97) dealt a further blow to the food security, accentuating the gravity of the food supply difficulties in the country. Indeed, large-scale international food assistance over the past three years has been instrumental in alleviating the serious consequences of food shortages for a large segment of the population, particularly vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant and lactating women and sick people. However, it must be stressed that large food assistance interventions are unlikely to be sustained for too long a period. It is, therefore, high time that efforts and resources are directed towards rehabilitation of the agriculture sector to realise its full production potential.

Based on the production forecast and its extensive investigations and the interviews with rural and urban families, the Mission confirms a bleak food supply outlook for 1998/99 (November/October). The Mission observed that, in the absence of trucks, people were carrying bundles of paddy on their back to threshing stations. In many locations visited by the Mission, school children were seen collecting grains around the harvested crop bundles in the fields. Such measures are taken to alleviate the problems besetting the food situation in the country. The FAO/WFP Missions in October 1997 and June 1998 warned that a large food deficit was in prospects for DPR Korea in 1998/99 and that substantial international food assistance would be required to meet minimum food needs. The cereal deficit for marketing year 1998/99 (November/October) is now estimated at 1 349 000 tonnes.

4.2 Cereal supply/demand balance, 1998/99

The following assumptions and parameters have been used in drawing the cereal supply/demand balance sheet for 1998/99, shown in Table 6.

• Mid-1998/99 marketing year population is estimated at 23.5 million, applying a 1.013 percent growth rate to 23.2 million used for mid-1998 in the November 1997 FAO/WFP Mission Report [/ There are various estimates of DPR Korea population reported by various sources. Based on the UNDP Human Development Report 1998, the population figure for mid-1999 works out to be 23.1 million; DPR K orea Population Centre’s analysis of 1993 Population Census data suggests a figure of 22.9 million for mid-1999 and the Economic Intelligence Unit suggests a population figure of 24.3 million for mid-1997 . On this basis, mid-1999 population would be at least 24.9 million. It is important that this question of the size of total population be resolved by all concerned, taking into account all relevant considerations. In the meantime, a figure of 23.5 million mid-1999 population has been used in this report, as a reasonable estimate.] /

Table 5: DPR Korea – Cereal balance sheet for 1998/99
(November/October) (‘000 tonnes)

Production 3 481
Stock draw-down 0
Food use 3 925
Feed use 300
Other uses, seed and post harvest losses 610
Commercial imports 300
Uncovered import requirement 1/. 1 054

1/ Some 360 000 tonnes are already pledged or in the pipeline, which leaves 694 000 tonnes uncovered.

The balance sheet presented in Table 5 shows that DPR Korea will need to import 1 354 000 tonnes in the 1998/99 marketing year (November/October), of which the country may succeed in commercially importing only some 300 000 tonnes. Thus, in order to satisfy minimum consumption requirements of the population, 1 054 000 tonnes of cereal food aid will be required. Against this amount, confirmed pledges and cereals in pipeline so far amount to 360 000 tonnes, leaving a deficit of 694 000 tonnes to be covered.

For the 1997/98 marketing year, which ended in October 1998, taking into account domestic supply of cereals, cereal imports, including food assistance [/ Cereal imports in 1997/98 (November/October), including commercial imports, barter trade and food assistance receipts are estimated at 1.4 million tonnes.] /, and deducting grain use of seed, feed, losses and other uses, it is estimated that the per caput availability of cereals was around 148 kg/year or 406 grams/day. This amount of grain provided approximately 1400 Kcal/caput/day (or 87 percent of the estimated 1600 Kcal/caput/day).

The average per caput availability conceals the fact that, in the wake of food shortages, access to food is no longer as equitable as before. The Mission found that, depending on the level of production, co-operatives distributed to their farmers differing per caput quantities. Again, given that PDS supplies were first drastically reduced and then stopped for several months in most areas, food supply constraints facing urban population was more severe than for the rural population who receive their annual supplies all at once following the completion of the main cereal harvest in October. Moreover, areas bordering China normally enjoy the benefit of cross border trade more than other areas of the country as the proceeds of border transactions are unlikely to be channelled systematically to the rest of the population, not least because of transport difficulties. Depending on geographical realities, access to other food items (e.g. fish, forest products) also differ from area to area. Also access to private (farmers’) markets and other outlets is highly dependent on individual circumstances. As a result, food vulnerability in certain areas and among certain population groups would be more pronounced than indicated by the average per caput food availability. But the extent of such differences in food consumption is not known. This can be established only through appropriate, nationally representative studies and observations.

4.3 Access to food and coping mechanisms

In DPR Korea, staple cereals are distributed to the population through co-operative farms and the Public Distribution System (PDS), managed by the Ministry of Food Administration. Since 1995, with food assistance becoming an important source of food supply, targeted institutions (nurseries, kindergartens, hospitals) became focal points to which PDS delivers supplies for consumption by those served by the institutions. Also, given the serious food shortages experienced by the country since 1995, various coping mechanisms have been adopted at national, regional and household levels.

4.3.1 Food distribution system

The co-operative farmers and their dependants receive their allotted quotas of cereals from their respective co-operatives in one instalment after the main harvest in October. The quantity allocated to the farmers themselves and their dependants varies, and also among dependants, depending on age. Prior to 1995, the average cereal allocation per member was 260 kg/year. This still remains the norm, but the average allocation has, since 1995, been variable and much smaller. The Government (Ministry of Food Administration) determines the allocation on the basis of production every year, which constitutes the floor. Depending upon the harvest, a co-operative may provide a larger amount within the norm. For example, in 1997/98 the average quantity per person was set at 135 kg; but the Mission has found that some co-operatives farmers received between 150 kg and 180 kg per caput on average. The standard per caput quantity for 1998/99 was not yet determined by the Government at the time of the Mission visit, but it was indicated that it might not be much different from last year’s quantity. Co-operative farmers are also allowed to retain prescribed quantities of cereals for seeds and livestock. Farmers supplement their food access by producing potatoes, green vegetables etc. on the family plots of 95 m2 each in the rural areas and 30m2 in urban areas (where available). Any surplus that a co-operative has, after distribution to farmers and retention for seeds and livestock, is sold to the State in exchange for cash at prescribed prices. This cash is distributed among the farmers on the basis of work points earned from various duties performed in the co-operative farming process.

The entire civilian population other than co-operative farmers and their dependants, (who include, for example, civil servants, industrial workers and technical people), is served by PDS through which they receive allocations of cereals (rice, maize, wheat flour, barley, pulses), determined for different categories of population (such as children, adults and elderly people), at highly subsidised prices [/ For instance, rice and maize are sold through the Public Distribution System at a heavily subsidized rate of 8 Chon/Kg and 6 Chon/Kg respectively amounting to 10 percent of the official farmgate price.] /. Under the PDS, each of the 12 provinces and municipalities has a Food Administration Department. Each of the 211 counties and districts of the country has a Food Administration Section and a warehouse. The warehouse is the primary source of food supplies to the PDS Centres in the country. The county level warehouse is also the distribution channel for food commodities specifically allocated to institutions, such as nurseries, kindergartens and hospitals. The PDS Centres are the outlet for all cereal food distribution to the general public other than co-operative farmers. The Centres are also used for distributing cereals to those beneficiaries of food aid who cannot be catered for through institutions (e.g. pregnant and nursing women and food-for-work beneficiaries). Each PDS Centre covers a specific geographical area with population ranging from 1 500 to 3 000 families. For commodities imported as food aid, detailed allocation plans are agreed upon between the Government and the donor prior to the arrival of the shipments.

With availability of cereals precipitously declining in the marketing year 1997/98, allocations to PDS Centres dropped drastically as the year progressed. According to information provided by the Government, the per caput provision was 400 g/day during varying periods in November-December 1997. But it was reduced to 300 g/day in January 1998, and 200 g/day in February, 100g/day in March, and there was no distribution from around mid-March to August.

Table 6 and Chart 3 show monthly Government distribution of cereals to PDS by province and city during the period from 1 November 1997 to 31 October 1998. In the absence of alternative sources of food supplies, the Mission believes that food rations would most probably have been supplied to Pyongyang and other main cities, albeit at reduced levels, to meet the minimum requirements of the population.

Table 6:Monthly Government Allocation of Cereals for General Distribution through PDS Centres (tonnes)

Nov-97 Dec-97 Jan-98 Feb-98 Mar-98 Apr-98 to Aug.98 Sep-98 Oct-98
Pyongyang 27 750 27 750 20 800 13 800 2 700 0 10 415 10 415
S. Pyongan 15 000 15 000 11 200 7 500 1 500 0 5 650 5 650
N. Pyongan 10 150 10 150 7 600 5 100 1 000 0 2 550 2 550
Chagang 9 350 9 350 7 000 4 600 900 0 2 350 2 350
S. Hwanghae 10 300 10 300 7 700 5 100 1 000 0 3 860 3 860
N. Hwanghae 9 150 9 150 5 500 3 700 700 0 2 400 2 400
Kangwon 5 650 5 650 4 200 2 800 500 0 1 450 1 450
S. Hamgyon 13 600 13 600 10 200 6 800 1 300 0 2 720 2 720
N. Hamgyon 13 100 13 100 10 000 6 700 1 300 0 2 620 2 620
Ryanggang 5 250 5 250 3 900 2 600 500 0 1 050 1 050
Kaesong 2 050 2 050 1 500 1 000 200 0 459 459
Nampo 4 550 4 550 3 400 2 300 400 0 1 150 1 150
Total 125 900 125 900 93 000 62 000 12 000 0 36 674 36 674

Source: Ministry of Food Administration, DPR Korea.

Undisplayed Graphic

4.3.2 Nutritional situation

In September/October 1998, the Government allowed and facilitated WFP, UNICEF and ECHO to carry out a Nutrition Survey to determine the nutritional status of children between 6 months and seven years of age. Full access was granted to 130 of the 211 counties in the country to carry out the survey. The sample in these 130 counties was selected randomly in three stages. The first stage involved short-listing of 30 counties from the 130 counties. The second stage involved selection of 4 Ris/Dongs (lowest level administrative units ) in each county. In the third stage 30 households were picked in each of the selected Ri/Dong. The first two stages were carried out by the a statistical expert who used population proportional to size, i.e. that each household in the 130 counties had an equal chance of being selected for the survey. The last stage was carried out by the data collectors themselves the night before data collection. They took the rolls of households and using the scientific method, of random number and then intervals depending on the number of households, selected the thirty households. The heads of selected households were notified and requested to have all family members present for the survey which was held the next day. The next day the survey teams weighed and measured all children under seven years from the selected households. This survey, which included 1,573 children of 6 to 84 months, is expected to provide first scientific and baseline data on the nutritional status of the children in this age group.

4.3.3 Coping mechanisms

In view of severe food supply difficulties, coping mechanisms are pursued at various levels: the national government, local administrations (provinces, counties), co-operatives and households. The Government has been endeavouring to import as much food as possible commercially (including barter trade) or through food aid. In addition, the Government has been encouraging more use of alternative foods made of vegetable leaves, seaweed, etc. Important steps have also been taken to improve the input availability situation to increase agricultural production, and discouraging rearing of grain eating livestock so that more is available for human consumption. The provincial and county administrations are taking measures to tap local resources as much as possible to deal with food supply difficulties. However, it is the households that have proved to be highly innovative and resilient in coping with their precarious food access situation. The various ways they have been endeavouring to cope include: intensive cultivation of potatoes, vegetables, etc. in the family plots; rearing of livestock such as rabbits, pigs, goats and chickens (although this activity has been substantially reduced due to grain shortages); purchases and exchanges at peasants’ markets; fishing, where possible; collecting wild forest food (especially in mountainous areas); eating alternative foods; saving from remittances from relatives abroad and possible small savings from previous rations.

4.4 Food assistance for 1998/99

4.4.1 Targeted food assistance

Targeted food assistance provided over the last four years and the coping strategies by the Government and the people have played an important role in preventing widespread starvation in the country. The Mission believes that the stage has now come when relief assistance needs to be combined with recovery efforts to resuscitate the national agricultural sector to enable it grow more food for its population. The interaction between the donor community and the Government over the past few years, have helped create better understanding on the part of the international community about the DPR Korea’s sensitivities, and on the part of the Government of DPR Korea about the donor community’s minimum requirement of access, transparency and accountability for the assistance being provided. This has improved the environment for implementing and managing project food aid.

While considering targeted relief food assistance, the Mission identified several segments of the population who were likely to be more at risk in times of food shortages. Some of these could be assisted through institutions while assistance to others could only be provided through the public distribution system. The categories of population that could be assisted through institutions included children in nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and in orphanages, patients in hospitals and handicapped people in institutions. The Mission also examined the desirability of extending food assistance to the staff of these institutions including teachers and doctors. The groups of population that were considered and who could only be assisted through the public distribution system included, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly. For the recovery component of targeted food aid the Mission examined the scope of food-for-work activities in support of the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. In this regard the Mission benefited from the sector studies that were being undertaken in support of the Agricultural Recovery and Environmental Protection (AREP) initiative, held discussions with visiting FAO and IFAD missions to explore collaboration in food-for-work activities and consulted the officials at ministry, province and county levels regarding the Government’s plans to undertake food-for-work activities in support of agricultural rehabilitation.

In considering food assistance to the above mentioned target groups, the Mission has based its recommendations on the weighing of the following factors on the basis of the experience gained in DPR Korea:

The total volume of targeted relief food assistance recommended is 300 000 tonnes for 1998/99.

The recovery component of the targeted food assistance projects will cover food-for-work activities in support of forestry, terracing, and nursery activities within AREP, and in support of FAO and IFAD supported projects and rural and agricultural development initiatives of the Government. It is recommended that 180 000 tonnes of cereals be set aside for undertaking food-for-work activities. This quantity would employ average of about 500 000 persons for six months.

Table 7: DPR Korea – Food Assistance needs for targeted beneficiaries, 1998/99

Type of assistance cereals
(‘000 tonnes)
Number of beneficiaries
Nutritional support:

Nurseries and kindergartens (6 years and under) 180 2 135
Primary schools (7 to 10 years) 43 1 362
Children centres (orphans & abandoned children) 3.5 21
Hospitals 21 28
Pregnant and lactating women 52.5 320
Food-for-work 180 500
TOTAL 480 4 466


4.4.2 Programme food assistance

The overall deficit in 1998/99 to be covered by external assistance amounts to 1.054 million tonnes of cereals. Of this amount 480 000 tonnes cereal are recommended as project food aid. The Mission recommends that the remaining 574 000 tonnes be provided as programme food aid and channelled through the PDS system for general distribution to help the population meet its minimum nutritional requirements.

4.4.3 Monitoring of Food Aid

In 1995, the Government of DPR Korea established an office of Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee (FDRC) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate all external assistance including food aid. The FDRC has provincial and county level offices which coordinate food assistance channeled through targeted institutions and PDS Centres.

The bulk of the targeted food aid arriving in DPR Korea is coordinated and managed by World Food Programme. A detailed system has been established to regularly and frequently monitor the food aid distribution. The process starts, before the arrival of every shipment, with identifying beneficiary needs in different counties and preparing a commodity allocation plan in collaboration with the central office of the FDRC. The FDRC office shares the agreed distribution plan with the Ministry of Food Administration and informs the provincial and county authorities of their allocation from the expected shipment. The county PDS warehouses make logistical arrangements to collect their allotted commodities from the port of arrival.

When a ship arrives at a DPR Korea port, the discharge of WFP commodities is closely monitored by WFP Port Captains. The discharged commodities are released to the PDS county officials in accordance with the allocation plan and transported to the institutions and PDS Centres as required. The internal transportation system is managed through a consignment notes system developed in consultation with the Government.

WFP officers stationed at Pyongyang and four regional offices located at Wonson, Hungnam, Chogjin and Snuju undertake regular and frequent monitoring visits. A new fifth office at Hyesan has now been opened to extend the monitoring network. The monitoring visits include overseeing port and consignment note operations, visiting FDRC county offices, county warehouses, PDS Centres, nurseries, kindergartens, hospitals, food-for-work sites and beneficiary contact monitoring including visits to beneficiary households. The monitoring visits are aimed at ascertaining that food commodities are flowing as planned and reaching the intended beneficiaries and identify areas where improvements are needed. At each of these monitoring visits, check-lists specially designed for these visits are completed. The check lists are completed on the basis of interviews carried out with officials and beneficiaries, the information obtained from the records of the institutions visited and observations made by the monitors. The information from these check lists is analyzed and used for managerial decisions to further strengthen the operations.

The monitoring process has been critical in determining the implementation status of the assistance and for taking timely corrective actions where required. But it has not been without its constraints. The two major constraints encountered in the monitoring process are: non-access or partial access to counties and lack of randomness in monitoring visits. At the commencement of the on-going emergency operation in April 1998, access was denied to 40 counties. The number of inaccessible counties increased to 51 of the 211 counties in June 1998 . No food commodities have been programmed for these inaccessible areas. In addition, there are 13 more counties to which food aid has been programmed but access has not been available at different times. The Government assures that the monitoring interruptions to the counties receiving food commodities are for short duration and are necessitated by periodic security concerns. The constraint relating to the lack of randomness of monitoring visits stems from the fact all programs for field visits have to be cleared with the Government in advance. Over the last three years there has been gradual improvement and better understanding by DPR Korea authorities of the needs of the donor community to randomly monitor its assistance. In most cases the visits can now be undertaken at short notice; however in many cases the selection of the sites (institutions) to be visited is still being decided by the FDRC.

A similar monitoring regime is followed by the bilateral and NGO donors who have presence in DPR Korea. The assistance provided by the NGOs who have no presence in DPR Korea, is managed by a Food Aid Liaison Unit (FALU) established in DPR Korea by a six member international NGO consortium.


A two pronged strategy is advocated to address the short, medium and longer term needs. In the short term, food assistance is needed to meet the minimum consumption requirements of the population, particularly the vulnerable groups (children, pregnant and lactating women, and sick people). But the needs of recovery, rehabilitation and development of the economy in general, and of the agriculture sector in particular, must be addressed urgently to enable the country to produce food to its full potential and pursue self-sustaining economic and social development.

Insofar as the agricultural sector’s recovery and development is concerned, the UNDP-led Thematic Roundtable for DPR Korea for Agricultural Recovery and Environmental Protection programme, held in May 1998 (with a follow-up meeting scheduled on 30 November 1998) provide a sound basis for future planning. The main objectives are: i) restoring food grain production to 6.2 million tonnes by the year 2000 and ii) strengthening a framework for sustainable food production. This Mission supports the following proposed interventions, which offer great potential for improving the food security in DPR Korea:

While a revitalised agricultural sector remains the cornerstone of food security in DPR Korea, the general economic performance is a crucial determinant of how far agriculture can be developed and food security of the population ensured on a sustainable basis.


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
Telex 610181 FAO I
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail:[email protected]

Ms. J. Cheng-Hopkins
Regional Director, OAC, WFP
Telex: 626675 WFP 1
Fax: 0039-06-6513-2863
E-Mail: [email protected]

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