FAO in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

DPR Korea at a glance

The division of Korea into two parts by outside forces in 1945 left DPR Korea with a major part of the mineral wealth, but with limited areas of agricultural land. The economy was in a state of colonial backwardness just after the liberation of the country, awfully crippled. Worse still, the country was almost entirely destroyed during the Korean War (1950-53) and was rebuilt from nothing.

DPR Korea is committed to an independent economy based on domestic raw materials, technology and management. The Government set forth the line of building an independent national economy which is to be fed with their own raw materials, run by their own technology and technicians, comprehensively developed and equipped with up-to-date technology. The State upgrades the national economy according to a plan so as to strengthen the foundations of independent national economy and steadily improve the standard of people’s living. The Government’s recent major policy on - economic development is to make a leap forward in the building of an economically powerful nation. Agriculture is a major thrust area.

The essential elements of sustainable human development are in place in DPR Korea. An advanced educational system was established within a short timeframe after the country’s liberation in 1945. All people in the country, irrespective of age and sex, are entitled to receive education through various educational networks, and their level of general knowledge, on average, is above that of secondary education. According to the 2008 population census, the literacy rate of people of 10 years and above is 99.998%, which is very high compared with other countries.

Universal free medical care has been in place since 1953 and complete, universal free medical care is provided with clinics in rural areas converted into hospitals. As a result, a well-regulated system of preventive medical treatment has been set up wherever people live - from towns to remote mountain areas. The overall average life expectancy in 2008 was 69.3 years with 72.7 for females and 65.6 for males.

Agricultural sector

Agriculture plays a very important role in developing national economy and improving people’s livelihood. On numerous occasions, Government renewed its commitment to agriculture and underlined the objective to achieve self-sufficiency in basic cereals.

Agriculture, which is very intensively managed, has always been constrained by the topographic features of the country which is mainly mountainous. The winters are harsh and the growing season is extremely short. The economic difficulties that affected industry at the start of the 1990s’ also affected agricultural production. The aging of agricultural plants and equipment and a shortage of energy also affected production. Since 1994, the shortages have been exacerbated by a series of natural disasters.

With a motive to solve the current food shortages by itself, priority was given to the agricultural sector in the national development policy. The innovative farming methods based on the policy of "a correct crop for soil and climate" were strongly emphasized by the Government through the expanded potato cultivation and the extended double-cropping programme.

Land use and farming systems

The main land use systems comprise: (i) annual crop land; (ii) perennial crop land; (iii) permanent meadows and pastures; and (iv) forests and woodlands. About 1.84 million ha of land is used for agriculture, of which 144 000 ha is used for orchard crops (fruit, mulberries), 574 000 ha for paddy crop, and 1 005 000 ha for non-paddy crops.

All flat land is irrigated for paddy. Sloping land below 16° is planted with maize and other field crops; land above 16° is planted with mulberry and economically-valuable trees. Hill tops are usually forested. Each rural household is entitled to a plot of 30 pyong (nearly 100㎡) for household use. Such plots are intensively cultivated with beans, potatoes, cabbage, and maize for family consumption and for sustaining small livestock.

In order to increase cereal production in the country where farming area is limited, the Government put forward the policy of double-cropping. The double-cropping system is based on growing different short-growth-period crops in different seasons on the same land in one year. The introduction of the double-cropping system has increased the country’s land utilization rate as well as yield. In parallel to the above activities, the initiatives for quality seeds production are being promoted by the Government.

Water resources

Water resources are abundant in DPR Korea. By enacting the Law on Water Resources, the Government established a legal framework for developing, using and conserving water resources, and took steps for conserving water resources throughout the country and using them more effectively for human daily life. However, water resources have diminished in recent years due to severe droughts, floods and destruction of forests as a result of climate change. The proportion of total water resources used saw a 1.66 fold increase, from 11.2 percent in 1990 to 18.6 percent in 2008. In 2008 the proportion of water used for industrial purposes was 30 percent, for agriculture 62 percent and 8 percent for domestic consumption.

Substantial investment has been made in reservoirs, canals and pumping systems by the Government. DPR Korea agriculture sector has some 1, 700 reservoirs, conserving 3.8 billion m3 of irrigation water. The Government objective is to ensure full irrigation to all annual croplands. Operation of the West Sea Barrage is making a major contribution towards this objective.

Irrigation is mostly from surface water. All but 300 000 ha of irrigated areas are served by pumping from rivers. This involves considerable lifts using large amounts of electrical and fuel energy. Groundwater is rarely used. Paddy land is irrigated by flood basin, uplands by both furrow and sprinkler. Furrow irrigation in uplands is often applied on sloping land favouring erosion.

Land and environmental protection

The Government has set environmental protection as an important national strategy to build a prosperous and powerful country and to provide people with independent and creative living conditions, and, hence, is increasing investment to ensure environmental sustainability. The Government puts forward forestation and water conservation as important policies in the area of environmental protection, considering the fact that mountainous and non-arable lands account for most of its territory.

Government instituted "land management months" in spring and autumn each year for extending the coverage of mountains with trees and flowers. It also implemented a forestation policy and pushed ahead with the renovation of tree nurseries, which are now capable of growing as many saplings as needed to be planted every year.

Fishery resource management

Biodiversity of marine ecosystem is relatively abundant in the DPR Korea; 450 species belonging to 295 genera and 140 families of fish are living in the offshore waters in the East Sea of Korea, and 250 species belonging to 181 genera and 108 families in the offshore waters of the West Sea of Korea. There has not been any significant change in the number of fish species.

While implementing governmental policy of extending and intensifying freshwater aquaculture, the numbers of fish farms and aquaculture species have been increased. Most farms have fish ponds which contribute to their household diet. The most common species grown are catfish and carp.