FAO in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Food production in DPR Korea: How it fared 2018?


DPRK’s five-year strategy for national economic development (2016–2020) set the goal for the agriculture sector, as contained in the Report to 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, as follows:

−          Carry out the cereals production plan by promoting scientific farming in accordance with the Juche farming method with a focus on:

  • Accelerating breeding superior varieties and production of high-yielding seeds that meet local demands for specific varieties
  • Disseminating varieties of crops in conformity with the geographical features and local climatic conditions
  • Promoting the use of advanced crop cultivation and management techniques
  • Encouraging organic farming and establishing a food production cycle

−          Increase production of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms through promotion of modern cultivation techniques including greenhouse cultivation of vegetables and mushrooms.

−          Accelerate mechanization of the rural economy with the target of increasing mechanization of farm operations to 60-70 percent

−          Improve domestic animal breeds, feed production; and rearing methods

−          Adopt comprehensive anti-epizootic measures to boost livestock production

−          Emphasize raising of grass-eating domestic animals

−          Develop collective livestock farming in collective farms and individual livestock farming in rural households

−          Upgrade fishing boats and equipment by use of modern scientific methods and technology

−          Introduce labour-saving and water-saving methods into fish farming

−          Expand offshore and cage-net fish farming focusing on offshore cultivation of shellfish and seaweed

As the year 2018 has ended, it is helpful to look back at the major events that influenced food production in DPR Korea. The key policies for the agriculture sector outlined in the 2018 New Year’s address to the nation by DPRK Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, were as follows:

−          Superior species and high-yield farming

−          Agricultural machinery production and scientific farming

−          Increase of greenhouse vegetable and mushroom production

−          The 2nd-stage construction of South Hwanghae Province waterway

−          Increase of livestock production

−          Development of fishing boat manufacturing and repairing

−          Vitalization of fish farming and aquaculture

These policies reaffirmed key policy elements for the agriculture sector pursued over the past five years: intensification of rice cultivation and greenhouse production of vegetables, mushroom and fruit; intensification of forage and fodder production in Sepo livestock farm; and development of inland water farming and modernization of aquaculture facilities.

The year-end achievements and constraints in implementing these policies were reviewed at the 4th National meeting of Activists in Agricultural field held in Pyongyang during 25-26 December attended by senior party and government officials, agricultural scientists, progressive farmers and technicians (Rodong Sinmun, 31 December 2018).

A report presented by Pak Pong Ju, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission and premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK highlighted the achievements and discussed drawbacks some farms and units faced in conducting seed production and management including the use of improved varieties adapted to local climatic conditions. Some farms could not display the full advantage of the field-responsibility system within the framework of the sub-work team management system, the report mentioned. The report emphasized attaining the goal of grain production set in the five-year plan of economic development.

In his 2019 New Year’s Address, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un emphasized providing effective scientific and technical guidance to farm operations and supplying adequate inputs to achieve rapid increase in cereal production. In the livestock sector, the emphasis was placed on the development of livestock farming, modernizing and revitalizing stockbreeding bases like chicken farms, and encouraging joint stockbreeding by cooperative farms and individual farmers to increase the supply of meat and eggs. In the fishery sector, the emphasis was given to material and technical capacity building, introducing modern aquaculture technologies and protecting aquatic resources.  

Food supply situation at the beginning of 2018

According to data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, total food production in 2017 was 5.454 million tonnes (in cereal equivalent). It was a decrease by 7.42 percent from the previous year’s level caused by drought which occurred during May-June 2017. A total of  

50 018 ha of cropped area including 29 903 ha of paddy and 20 115 ha of maize was damaged. The total stock of food supply at the beginning of the 2017/18 marketing year was 5.227 million tonnes (unmilled). Food resources available for human consumption in 2017-2018 were 3 574 079 tonnes (milled) compared with the total food requirement of 5 193 067 tonnes (milled), indicating a deficit of 1 068 138 tonnes. Taking into account early season crop production and 2017 import of 150 000 tonnes, uncovered food deficit was estimated at 522 542 tonnes.

DPRK has been listed as one among 40 countries in need of external assistance for food in FAO’s December 2018 Quarterly Global Report “Crop prospects and food situation”. The criterion for DPRK’s inclusion in the list is widespread lack of access caused by localized shortfalls in 2018 main season cereal output. Below-average outputs are expected for rice due to erratic rains and low irrigation supplies and for maize due to diminished yields caused by unfavourable weather conditions. As a result, food insecurity continues to remain a key concern in DPR Korea. Total import requirements to close the production shortfall in 2018 is estimated at 641 000 tonnes (FAO 2018 Quarterly Global Report).

Forecast for 2018 crop production

Weather conditions during October-November 2017 were favourable for timely planting of winter wheat and barley crops. Rainfall was adequate (equal to long-term average or in excess of it) over most parts of the country during October-November. Crop conditions remained favourable during January-March 2018. In January and particularly in February 2018, most parts of the country received rainfall exceeding the LTA or close to normal. In March, some areas in the South-eastern and North-eastern parts received rainfall exceeding LTA. Rainfall in most other areas was normal or slightly less than normal. Therefore, the prospects for the 2017/2018 winter crops seemed favourable. But with the onset of the main season, climatic conditions were changing to unfavourable. Heat waves combined with erratic rainfall led to drought during 20 July–6 August 2018 which affected crop production particularly damaging the maize crop in the provinces of South Pyongan, North Pyongan, South Hwanghae, North Hwanghae, South Hamgyong, North Hamgyong, Ryanggang, Jagang and Pyonyang.

According to official estimates, a total of 98 892 hectares (ha) of growing crops, including 24 664 ha of rice and 74 228 ha of non-rice crops, mainly maize, were affected. The most severely affected provinces were North Hamgyong (40 881 ha), North Hwanghae (16 136 ha), South Hwanghae (15 634 ha) and South Hamgyong provinces (10 744 ha). On the heels of drought, heavy continuous rains over a 48-hour period during 29–30 August 2018 led to flash floods in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, which were also affected by drought. A total of 11 745 ha of cropped land including 4 236 ha of rice; and 6 127 ha of maize crops were destroyed. Pending official data on 2018 main season crop production, it is anticipated total production is likely to decline below the previous year’s level and the five-year average over 2012-2017.


In 2019, DPRK has entered the fourth-year of its five-year development plan. More efforts on resource mobilization are needed to achieve the targets for the agriculture sector set in the plan.