Policy Area: Agriculture

Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to the DPRK
FAO/WFP, October 30 , 2003.

Mission Highlights
DPR Korea continued its recovery in agricultural production that started in 2001, with this year's food production showing some improvement over the previous three years.

The main factors behind this continued recovery include favourable weather conditions especially at the beginning of the season, a relatively low incidence of crop pests and diseases, increased application of fertilizer provided through international assistance, improved irrigation facilities in the main Cereal Bowl region of the country due to completion of the Kechan-Taesong Lake canal funded by the OPEC, improved availability of electricity for irrigation pumping stations, and enhanced mechanization resulting from greater availability of fuel and spare parts.

The 2003/04 cereal production, including potatoes in cereal equivalent, is forecast at 4.16 million tonnes, the best harvest over the last nine years, and 4.7 percent larger than last year's revised estimate.

Despite the recovery over the last three years, domestic production still falls well below the minimum food needs and the country will again have to depend on substantial external food assistance as its capacity to import commercially remains highly constrained.

The cereal deficit in 2003/04 (November/October) is estimated at 944 000 tonnes. With commercial imports estimated at 100 000 tonnes, concessional imports at 300 000 tonnes mainly from the Republic of Korea and anticipated food aid at 140 000 tonnes, there remains a deficit of 404 000 tonnes which needs to be covered by additional food aid and concessional imports.

To deal with this chronic food shortage, it is recommended that in addition to providing urgently needed food aid, the International Community enter with the Government into a policy dialogue to set an enabling framework to mobilize the economic, financial and other assistance needed to promote sustainable food production and overall food security.

Based on Household Food Economy Analyses, that revealed inter alia the increased vulnerability of Public Distribution System (PDS) dependant households to food insecurity due to their deteriorated purchasing power, the Mission recommends the mobilisation of 484 000 tonnes of food aid (about 400 000 tonnes in cereals) for 6.5 million vulnerable people for calendar year 2004.


An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the country from 23 September to 4 October to assess the 2003 crop harvest, forecast 2004 production of winter/spring wheat, barley and potato crops, and estimate cereal import requirements for the 2003/04 marketing year (November/October), including food aid needs.

The Mission interviewed government and cooperative officials, and observed standing and harvested crops still in fields to assess yields. The Mission also visited schools, nurseries, hospitals, Public Food Distribution Centres, and rural and urban families. The Mission covered seven out of 12 provinces of the country, which account for over 80 percent of the national cereal and potato production. The provinces visited include North Pyongan, South Pyongan, North Hwanghae, South Hwanghae, Pyongyang (rural districts and counties), Kangwon and South Hamgyong. Discussions were held with staff of UN agencies, NGOs, resident diplomatic missions, and government officials at the national, provincial and county levels. The Mission also used rainfall and temperature charts and high resolution SPOT-4 satellite images to verify vegetation conditions in 2003 compared to previous years.

This year rainfall and temperature at the beginning of the season were more favourable for crop production than they were last year. This resulted in generally better yields of spring crops and of the winter wheat sown at the end of 2002. It also benefited nursery operations and the transplanting of paddy, as well as the timely planting and establishment of maize. Some local flooding was reported, but very much less than in previous years. However, towards the end of August and throughout September most areas experienced below-average temperatures and above-average cloud cover which delayed crop maturation and reduced yield expectations. Though crop pests and diseases were widely reported this year, their levels of incidence were generally relatively low. Improved availability of electricity resulted in more effective functioning of irrigation pumping-stations; fewer paddy fields dried out during the growing season than in recent years and in cases where there were prolonged breaks in power supply favourable rainfall was often sufficient to alleviate the problem. The use of fertilizer increased again this year, and more tractors were operational as a result of better access to fuel and spare parts. Construction of the Kechan-Taesong Lake canal funded by the OPEC has been completed this year improving gravity irrigation facilities in the main Cereal Bowl region of the country. This combined with the land re-alignment exercise in the paddy fields has created improved conditions for increasing irrigation efficiency.

This generally positive situation is expected to result in a 4.7 percent increase in estimated crop production (cereal and cereal equivalent) for 2003/04 compared with 2002/03 (revised), and a continuation in the improvement in domestic food production from the low levels seen in the mid to late 1990s. It should, however, be noted that the national food-availability estimates for the coming year include forecasts for winter and spring-sown crops which will not be harvested until the second quarter of 2004. The contribution of these crops to the national total is expected to be about 12 percent. The production estimate would need to be revised once the harvest outcome of these crops is known.

Despite the good outcome, the 2003 cereal production still remains well below the minimum consumption needs of the country. The estimated total cereal production, including potatoes in cereal equivalent, available for consumption in the 2003/04 marketing year (Nov./Oct.) amounts to 4.156 million tonnes. Food use, based on an estimated population of 23.62 million, and other utilization needs are estimated at 5.100 million tonnes. This results in a deficit of 944 000 tonnes. Commercial imports are estimated at only 100 000 tonnes due to low import capacity of the country, while concessional imports are estimated at 300 000 tonnes and pledged/pipeline food aid at 140 000 tonnes. This leaves an uncovered deficit of 404 000 tonnes which needs to be covered by additional food aid and concessional imports.

Although a Government/UNICEF/WFP nutrition survey in October 2002 indicated an improvement in the general nutritional status of children, malnutrition remains alarmingly high. One problem is the still inadequate availability of basic food, despite the increases in cereal production, and of food items that allow for a more balanced diet. Another problem is the further deterioration of the already insufficient purchasing power of many urban PDS-dependant households who have been recently displaced or under-employed due to the transitory effects of the economic reforms, and who at the same time face steep increases in food prices.

Continued targeted food aid interventions for vulnerable people are therefore called for to prevent a slippage towards the previous malnutrition levels. Children in orphanages, kindergartens and nurseries, primary school children, pregnant and nursing women and elderly should continue to form the core of WFP's beneficiaries. In addition, efforts should be made to reach low income PDS-dependants in highly urban areas who may have become food insecure. In order to identify these households, WFP needs access to verifiable data on incomes, prices, family size and other information to complete its Household Food Economy Analysis, and to design the most appropriate assistance modality. The Government has recently been more forthcoming with this data than in the past.

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