FAO calls for food aid for North Korea

Soldiers collect straw on Hwanggumpyong Island in the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju last year. The Food and Agriculture Organization has issued a food security warning for the country because of dry weather that has damaged crops.  |  REUTERS/Jacky Chen photo

North Korea’s crop production for 2017, including staple rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, has been severely damaged by prolonged dry weather conditions, threatening food security for a large part of its population, according to a new Food and Agriculture Organization update prepared in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Rainfall from April to June in key crop producing areas in the country was well below the long-term average, severely disrupting planting activities and damaging the main season crops.

“So far, seasonal rainfall in main cereal producing areas have been below the level of 2001, when cereal production dropped to the unprecedented level of only two million tonnes, causing a sharp deterioration in food security conditions of a large part of the population,” said Vincent Martin, FAO representative in China and North Korea.

The severe dry spell also affected the 2016-17 early season crops, which were harvested in June and include wheat, barley and potatoes. According to the FAO’s latest estimates, production of 2017 early season crops has plunged by more than 30 percent from the previous year’s level of 450,000 tonnes to 310,000 tonnes.

Despite the fact that the early season harvest accounts for only 10 percent of the total annual cereal output, these crops are an important source of food during the lean season from May to September.

Although rain in the first half of July provided some relief, it was generally too late to allow normal planting and development of the 2017 main season crops, which are harvested in October and November.

The lack of rain is expected to have a serious impact on main season crops in the major cereal producing areas, including the provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for close to two-thirds of overall main season cereal production.

With forecasts of reduced production of the 2017 main season crop, the food security situation is expected to further deteriorate during the 2017-18 marketing year, and cereal import requirements are likely to increase.

“Immediate interventions are needed to support affected farmers and prevent undesirable coping strategies for the most vulnerable, such as reducing daily food in-takes,” said Martin.

“It is critical now that farmers receive appropriate and timely agricultural assistance, including irrigation equipment and ma-chinery.”

According to the report, it is also essential to immediately start rehabilitating and upgrading irrigation schemes to reduce water losses and increase water availability.

Increased food imports, commercial or through food aid, would be required during the next three months at the peak of the lean season, ensuring adequate food supply for the most vulnerable, including children and elders.

The FAO also recommended promoting drought-tolerant crops and varieties and diversifying livelihoods to increase the resilience of farmers and households to natural disasters and climate change.

The Food and Agriculture Organization is an agency of the United Nations.

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