North Korea's food production falls for first time since 2010 as water scarcity hits agricultural sector

Food security expected to deteriorate, most households already estimated to have poor or borderline consumption.

North Korea’s total  food production - including cereals, soybeans and potatoes in cereal equivalent - is estimated to have fallen in 2015, the first drop since 2010, and is expected to worsen food security in the country, according to FAO.

Last year, total food production in North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is estimated to have been about 5.4 million tonnes compared to 5.9 million tonnes in 2014, marking a 9 per cent decrease, the update said.

In particular, production of paddy rice, the country’s main staple, dropped by 26 per cent to 1.9 million tonnes, mainly due to poor rains and low availability of water for irrigation.

FAO’s estimate for the country’s cereal import requirements for the 2015/16 marketing year (November-October) amounts to 694,000 tonnes. With 300,000 tonnes expected to be covered by government imports, the uncovered deficit of 394,000 tonnes represents the highest gap since 2011/12, the report said.

The estimates are based on official production figures and analysis by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Food security set to deteriorate

Given the tight food supplies in 2015/16, the country’s food security situation is expected to deteriorate from the previous year when most households were already estimated to have poor or borderline food consumption levels.

Crop overview

Besides severely affecting the rice crop, the dry conditions during the 2015 main season, coupled with low irrigation water availability following recurrent dry spells since July 2014, also impacted negatively on the production of maize, the country’s second most important cereal crop.

Despite an expansion in plantings, maize output is estimated to have decreased by 3 per cent to 2.29 million tonnes in 2015.

The report noted that the output of more drought-resistant soybeans - the most important source of protein in North Korea -increased by 37 per cent to 220,000  in 2015.

Similarly, the output of other cereals (sorghum, millet, buckwheat) is put at 156,000 tonnes, almost triple the level of 2014.

Production of 2016 early season potatoes and minor wheat and barley, to be harvested from June, is forecast at 363 000 tonnes, 21 per cent higher than the sharply reduced 2015 level.

FAO’s work

FAO is supporting the implementation of Disaster Risk Reduction measures as part of its work to increase resilience of livelihoods to shocks. This is being done by providing the most affected cooperative farms with essential inputs, equipment and training to mitigate the impact of drought on paddy, maize, soybean and potato crop production in North and South Hwanghae provinces.

In addition, FAO is promoting, on pilot scale, sustainable agriculture practices, including on-farm water management, through improved land levelling, water saving technologies as well as more efficient water control, also through crop irrigation scheduling.

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