GIEWS Country Brief: Democratic People's Republic of Korea 16-June-2016

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  • Early prospects for 2016 main season cereal crops favourable

  • Aggregate food crop production in 2015 declined due to prolonged dryness

  • Higher cereal import requirement forecast by FAO for 2015/16 marketing year (November/October)

  • Food rations sharply reduced since July 2015

Early prospects for 2016 main season food crops favourable

Planting of the 2016 main season food crops, including rice, maize, soybeans and potatoes, normally starts in April and continues until mid-June. Normal to above-normal rainfall since April over central and southern ‘’food-basket’’ provinces of the country, coupled with improved supplies of irrigation water, benefitted planting operations and early crop development.

Assuming favourable precipitation for the remainder of the season, the 2016 main season cereal output is expected to recover from the drought-affected harvest of 2015.

Production of 2016 early season crops expected to recover from last year’s sharply reduced level

Latest official production forecasts from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) put the 2016 early season potatoes, wheat and barley crops, currently being harvested, at 363 000 tonnes (cereal equivalent), 21 percent higher than the sharply-reduced 2015 level. The expected production gain is the result of favourable weather during the cropping season and improved water availability in the main reservoirs that boosted yield prospects.

Early season potato production in 2016 is forecast by FAO at 297 000 tonnes, 27 percent above the previous year’s level, while the combined production of wheat and barley is expected to almost double from last year’s level and reach 66 000 tonnes.

Food1/ crop production declined in 2015 due to poor rains and reduced availability of water for irrigation

The aggregate 2015 food crop production is estimated 5.42 million tonnes, 9 percent down from 2014. This number includes estimates from MoA for the 2015 main season, and FAO’s forecasts for the 2016 early season crops. As the MoA estimate does not include cultivated area from sloping land and household gardens, FAO, based on the estimates from previous Crop and Food Security Assessment Missions, has added 550 000 hectares of sloping land and 25 000 hectares of household gardens.

The 2015 main season food crop production is estimated at 4.78 million tonnes, 11 percent below 2014’s output. The decrease is mostly attributed to a 26 percent drop in paddy production, estimated at 1.95 million tonnes, due to lingering precipitation deficits and low water availabilities for irrigation.
Similarly, despite an expansion in plantings, the 2015 maize output is officially estimated to have decreased by 3 percent to 2.29 million tonnes, due to the prolonged dry spell. By contrast, the output of more drought-resistant minor crops, such as soybeans, millet and sorghum, increased in 2015 as a result of both larger plantings and higher yields. The production of sloping land and household gardens, which is not included in the official data, is estimated by FAO at 228 000 tonnes for maize and 50 000 tonnes for potatoes (cereal equivalent), respectively.

Higher cereal import requirement forecast by FAO for 2015/16 marketing year

Total food requirements for the 2015/16 marketing year (November/October) are forecast by FAO at 5.49 million tonnes in cereal equivalent (rice in milled terms), resulting in a cereal import requirement of 694 000 tonnes. Assuming the official import target of 300 000 tonnes of cereals is met, an uncovered deficit of 394 000 tonnes for the current marketing year is forecast. This gap is almost four times larger than in 2014/15 and the highest since 2011/12.

Food rations sharply reduced since July 2015

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is the main source of cereals for at least 70 percent of the total population (around 18 million people). Given the strong dependence on national cereal production, PDS ration sizes tend to vary by season and by month during the year. The monthly average rations since July 2015 were below those distributed during the same period in 2014 and the average level between 2011/12 and 2013/14. PDS rations, set at 370 grams/ person/day between January and March 2016, were reduced to 360 grams/person/day since April.

This is the lowest rate since 2010/11 (see Fig. 1), and well below the Government’s target of 573 grams/person/day, mainly due to an overall shortage of food in the country.