The extreme drought in North Korea over the past months and floods in recent weeks have adversely affected the isolated, communist country’s agricultural sector.
The World Food Program’s (WFP) North Korea director, Claudia von Roehl, visited farms in the country in recent weeks and said only 207,000 metric tons of crops have been harvested, down 40 percent from the same time last year.
The country’s recent dry spell has exacerbated an already shaky agricultural sector that relies primarily on rain. Early crops such as wheat, barley, and potatoes have been severely impacted.
The head of Sokdam farm showed von Roehl potatoes that were no larger than cherries that were harvested and were unable to be used as a food source.
“Although the early crop is only 10 percent of national production, it comes at a crucial time as the annual lean season months—when food supplies are at their lowest in [North Korea]—begin to bite,” von Roehl wrote. “And perhaps more worryingly, there are now concerns for the main maize harvest later in the year.”
On a farm in Ryongchon, around 2,500 acres of land are slated to grow corn but fields have not yet been irrigated due to virtually no rain in the region.
“Farmers from the surrounding area have been mobilized to help water the seedbeds and encourage the transplanted maize seedlings to grow, carrying water in whatever vessels they could find, but many of the plants have withered and died,” she said.
North Korea since the 1990s has been forced to deal with famines, causing the deaths of millions of people due to hunger or related problems, according to some estimates.
In recent weeks, floods have washed over parts of North Korea, with state-run media saying on Saturday that 169 people had been killed, 400 people had gone missing, damaged 8,600 homes, and submerged more than 40,000 houses and left 22,000 homeless. The recent numbers represent a sharp increase over previous figures reported on by state-run media.
At the same time, 161,310 acres of cropland had been submerged, which will likely further strain the country’s lackadaisical farming industry, state-run media reported.
The WFP said in its 2012 report on North Korea that government data regarding the floods might be skewed.
This year, the U.N. has estimated that more than 3 million people would need food aid in North Korea and that was before the floods. The WFP said on its website 16 million people out of a population of more than 24 million suffer from chronic food insecurity that will likely worsen after this year’s drought-triggered, poor harvest.
The World Food Program said last week it was sending the first batch of emergency food assistance to flood victims.
In early July, Kim Young Hun, a researcher at the Korea Rural Economic Institute told the Daily NK website that the start of heavy rains did not affect rice planting, “apart from the delayed schedule.”
However, after speaking with North Korean farmers, von Roehl said the country’s rice crop will probably be adversely affected this year.
“Rice needs rain, then sun for germination. This year there was no rain, but a permanent sun. Only recently have rains arrived. No one is really sure how the final crop will fare later in the year,” she wrote.
State media on Monday reported that Vietnam, another communist country, donated 5,000 tons of rice to North Korea following the floods.
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