North Korea’s staple food output has improved, but the poverty-stricken country is still struggling to eradicate malnutrition and provide its people with vital protein, UN agencies said yesterday.
Overall production for the main harvest this year and early-season crops next year is expected to be 5.8 million tonnes, up 10 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).
However, their report said the figures “should not mask an ongoing struggle with undernutrition and a lack of vital protein and fat in the diet, especially for an estimated 2.8 million vulnerable people.”
North Korea has suffered regular chronic food shortages under the Kim dynasty, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement. During a famine in the middle to late-1990s, hundreds of thousands died.
A joint assessment mission from the FAO and WFP visited all the North’s agricultural provinces between late September and early last month — around the time of the main annual cereal harvest.
It estimated the country would need to import 507,000 tonnes of cereals to meet its basic food needs, but the government’s import target was 300,000 tonnes, leaving a deficit of 207,000 tonnes if it was met.
The figure was the lowest in many years, but the mission voiced concern over a 30 percent decrease in soybean production and limited quantities of vegetables, perpetuating a “chronic lack” of key proteins, oils, fats and vitamins.
Soybean production was hit by a prolonged dry spell in the first half of this year, but the impact on maize was largely mitigated by irrigation as people were mobilized on a huge scale to water crops by hand.
“The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming,” said Claudia von Roehl, the WFP’s North Korea country director.
“We must double our efforts to reach 2 million children with a steady stream of nutritious foods and so provide a more balanced, healthy diet,” she added.
“The country needs to produce more protein-rich foods like soybean and fish and to put more effort into growing two crops a year so a more varied diet is available for everyone,” said Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and co-leader of the mission.
UN agencies said in June that about one in three children aged under five in North Korea are stunted because of malnutrition.