Undernutrition still a problem in North Korea, despite better harvests

U.N. food agencies estimate North Korea has produced 10 percent more staple food this year, but an “alarming” lack of vital protein and fat in people’s diet leaves nearly 3 million susceptible to undernutrition. Photo by: Devrig Velly / EU / ECHO / CC BY-SA

U.N. food agencies estimate North Korea has produced 10 percent more staple food this year, but an “alarming” lack of vital protein and fat in people’s diets leaves nearly 3 million susceptible to undernutrition.

A joint crop and security assessment mission from the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization has found yields in 2012 and early 2013 are likely to each 5.8 million metric tons, higher than last year’s harvest.

But the mission also found that not only are there limited quantities of vegetables available, soybean production dropped 30 percent as well. This means the country would have to import 507,000 metric tons of cereal just to meet its basic food needs.

“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,” Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and co-leader of the mission, said in a press release.

The report notes that international assistance needs to be focused on scaling up nutrition programs for the 2.8 million children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly, disabled and chronically ill people in the country’s northeastern region. The mission identified these groups as the most vulnerable to undernutrition.

National and international support is also needed to boost production of protein commodities such as soybeans and fish, and improve mechanization and set up an incentive system to cultivate more efficient agriculture practices.

North Korea has had long-standing issues with food security. The United Nations detailed the country’s humanitarian needs, including food and nutrition, in June this year. But the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ financial tracking service shows the global body’s $198 million appeal is only 53 percent funded.

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About the author

  • Adrienne Valdez

    Adrienne Valdez is a former staff writer for Devex, covering breaking international development news. Before joining Devex, Adrienne worked as a news correspondent for a public-sector modernization publication.

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