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Agriculture in North Korea

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Farming in North Korea is concentrated in the flatlands of the four west coast provinces, where a longer growing season, level land, adequate rainfall, and good irrigated soil permit the most intensive cultivation of crops1 A narrow strip of similarly fertile land runs through the eastern seaboard Hamgyŏng provinces and Kangwŏn Province1

The interior provinces of Chagang and Ryanggang are too mountainous, cold, and dry to allow much farming1 The mountains contain the bulk of North Korea's forest reserves while the foothills within and between the major agricultural regions provide lands for livestock grazing and fruit tree cultivation1

Major crops include rice and potatoes 234% of North Korea's labor force worked in agriculture in 20122


  • 1 Farming conditions
  • 2 Agricultural products
    • 21 Rice
    • 22 Potatoes
    • 23 Greenhouse products
  • 3 Food Distribution System
  • 4 Agricultural policy
  • 5 Agricultural history
    • 51 Crisis and famine 1994-1998
    • 52 Food shortages
  • 6 References

Farming conditionsedit

North Korea's sparse agricultural resources limit agricultural production Climate, terrain, and soil conditions are not particularly favorable for farming, with a relatively short cropping season Only about 17% of the total landmass, or approximately 20,000 km2, is arable, of which 14,000 km2 is well suited for cereal cultivation; the major portion of the country is rugged mountain terrain1

The weather varies markedly according to elevation, and lack of precipitation, along with infertile soil, makes land at elevations higher than 400 meters unsuitable for purposes other than grazing Precipitation is geographically and seasonally irregular, and in most parts of the country as much as half the annual rainfall occurs in the three summer months This pattern favors the cultivation of paddy rice in warmer regions that are outfitted with irrigation and flood control networks Rice yields are 53 tonnes per hectare, close to international norms3

Agricultural productsedit


Rice is North Korea's primary farm product4


Further information: Potato production in North Korea

Potatoes have become an important food source in North Korea After the 1990s famine, a "potato revolution" has taken place Between 1998 and 2008 the area of potato cultivation in North Korea quadrupled to 200,000 ha and per capita consumption increased from 16 to 60 kilograms 35 to 132 lb per year5

The potato was considered a second grade food item, but has become the main staple in rural areas, replacing rice6

Greenhouse productsedit

Since 2014 many greenhouses have been built, funded by the new semi-private traders in co-operation with farmers, growing soft fruits such as strawberries and melons The traders arrand distribution and sale in the Jangmadang markets in cities7

Food Distribution Systemedit

Since the 1950s, a majority of North Koreans have received their food through the Public Distribution System PDS The PDS requires farmers in agricultural regions to hand over a portion of their production to the government and then reallocates the surplus to urban regions, which cannot grow their own foods About 70% of the North Korean population, including the entire urban population, receives food through this government-run system1

Before the floods, recipients were generally allotted 600-700 grams per day while high officials, military men, heavy laborers, and public security personnel were allotted slightly larger portions of 700-800 grams per daycitation needed As of 2013, the target average distribution was 573 grams of cereal equivalent per person per day, but varied according to age, occupation, and whether rations are received elsewhere such as school meals1

Decreases in production affected the quantity of food available through the public distribution system Shortages were compounded when the North Korean government imposed further restrictions on collective farmers When farmers, who had never been covered by the PDS, were mandated by the government to reduce their own food allotments from 167 kilograms to 107 kilograms of grain per person each year, they responded by withholding portions of the required amount of grain Famine refugees reportedcitation needed that the government decreased PDS rations to 150 grams in 1994 and to as low as 30 grams by 1997

The PDS failed to provide any food from April to August 1998 the “lean” season as well as from March to June 1999 In January 1998, the North Korean government publicly announced that the PDS would no longer distribute rations and that families needed to somehow procure their own food suppliescitation needed By 2005 the PDS was only supplying households with approximately one half of an absolute minimum caloric needcitation needed By 2008 the system had significantly recovered, and from 2009 to 2013 daily per person rations averaged at 400 grams per day for much of the year, though in 2011 it dropped to 200 grams per day from May to September1

It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from small businesses that were technically illegal though unenforced in North Korea In 2002, and in 2010, private markets were progressively legalized8 As of 2013, urban and farmer markets were held every 10 days, and most urban residents lived within 2 km of a market, with markets having an increasing role in obtaining food1

Agricultural policyedit

Since self-sufficiency remains an important pillar of North Korean ideology, self-sufficiency in food production is deemed a worthy goal Another aim of government policies—to reduce the "gap" between urban and rural living standards—requires continued investment in the agricultural sector Finally, as in most countries, changes in the supply or prices of foodstuffs probably are the most conspicuous and sensitive economic concerns for the average citizenoriginal research The stability of the country depends on steady, if not rapid, increases in the availability of food items at reasonable prices In the early 1990s, there were severe food shortages910

The most far-reaching statement on agricultural policy is embodied in Kim Il-sung's 1964 Theses on the Socialist Agrarian Question in Our Country, which underscores the government's concern for agricultural development Kim emphasized technological and educational progress in the countryside as well as collective forms of ownership and management11

Agricultural historyedit

Agriculture in North Korea relies heavily on manual labor with few machines in sight During harvest season, students are often drafted in from cities to help bring in the crops in time before the autumn rains

As industrialization progressed, the share of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in the total national output declined from 635% and 314%, respectively, in 1945 and 1946, to a low of 268% in 1990 Their share in the labor force also declined from 576% in 1960 to 344% in 1989

In the 1990s decreasing ability to carry out mechanized operations including the pumping of water for irrigation, as well as lack of chemical inputs, was clearly contributing to reduced yields and increased harvesting and post-harvest losses1

Incremental improvements in agricultural production have been made since the late 1990s, bringing North Korea close to self-sufficiency in staple foods by 2013 In particular rice yields have steadily improved, though yields on other crops have generally not improved The production of protein foods remains inadequate Access to chemical fertilizer has declined, but the use of compost and other organic fertilizer has been encouraged13

Crisis and famine 1994-1998edit

Main article: North Korean famine

From 1994 to 1998 North Korea suffered a famine Since 1998 there has been a gradual recovery in agriculture production, which by 2013 brought North Korea back close to self-sufficiency in staple foods However, as of 2013, most households have borderline or poor food consumption, and consumption of protein remains inadequate1

In the 1990s the North Korean economy saw stagnation turning into crisis Economic assistance received from the USSR and China was an important factor of its economic growth In 1991 USSR collapsed, withdrew its support and demanded payment in hard currency for imports China stepped in to provide some assistance and supplied food and oil, most of it reportedly at concessionary pricescitation needed But in 1994 China reduced its exports to North Korea The rigidity in the political and economic systems of North Korea left the country ill-prepared for a changing world The North Korean economy was undermined and its industrial output began to decline in 1990

Deprived of industrial inputs, including fertilizers, pesticides, and electricity for irrigation, agricultural output also started to decrease even before North Korea had a series of natural disasters in the mid-1990s This evolution, combined with a series of natural disasters including record floods in 1995, caused one of the worst economic crises in North Korea's history Other causes of this crisis were high defense spending about 25% of GDP and bad governance It is estimatedcitation needed that between 1992 and 1998 North Korea's economy contracted by 50% and several hundred thousand possibly up to 3 million people died of starvation12

North Korea announced in December 1993 a 3-year transitional economic policy placing primary emphasis on agriculture, light industry, and foreign trade A lack of fertilizer, natural disasters, and poor storage and transportation practices have left the country more than a million tons per year short of grain self-sufficiency Moreover, lack of foreign exchange to purchase spare parts and oil for electricity generation left many factories idle

The 1990s famine paralyzed many of the Marxist–Leninist economic institutions The government pursued Kim Jong Il's Songun policy, under which the military is deployed to direct production and infrastructure projects As a consequence of the government's policy of establishing economic self-sufficiency, the North Korean economy has become increasingly isolated from that of the rest of the world, and its industrial development and structure do not reflect its international competitiveness Domestic firms are shielded from international as well as domestic competition; the result is chronic inefficiency, poor quality, limited product diversity, and underutilization of plantscitation needed This protectionism also limits the size of the market for North Korean producers, which prevents taking advantage of economies of scale

Food shortagesedit

The food shortage was caused as a direct result of the massive flooding and a mix of political failure and poor amounts of arable land in the country9101314 In 2004, more than half 57% of the population had not enough food for them to stay healthy 37% of the children had their growth stunted and 1/3 of mothers severely lacked nutrition1516

In 2006, the World Food Program WFP and FAO estimated a requirement of 53 to 65 million tons of grain when domestic production fulfilled only 3825 million tons17 The country also faces land degradation after forests stripped for agriculture resulted in soil erosion18 Harsh weather conditions that dented the agricultural output wheat and barley production dropped 50% and 80% respectively in 2011 and rising global food prices stressed greater food shortage, putting 6 million North Koreans at risk19

With a dramatic increase on the reliance on private sales of goods, as well as increased international aid, the situation has improved somewhat with undernourishment no longer being a major concern for most North Koreans as of 2014, although PDS the Public Distribution System still continues20


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea PDF Report Food and Agriculture Organization/World Food Programme 2013 Retrieved 7 January 2014 
  2. ^ "CIA World Factbook 2012 estimate" Ciagov Retrieved January 5, 2015 
  3. ^ a b Randall Ireson 18 December 2013 "The State of North Korean Farming: New Information from the UN Crop Assessment Report" 38 North US-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Retrieved 7 January 2014 
  4. ^ Suominen, Heli July 31, 2000 "North Koreans study potato farming in Ostrobothnia" Retrieved 10 June 2013 
  5. ^ "2008 – The International Year of the Potato" Current Concerns Journal Retrieved 9 June 2013 
  6. ^ Ralph Hassig; Kongdan Oh 16 November 2009 The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom Rowman & Littlefield pp 110– ISBN 978-0-7425-6720-7 
  7. ^ Lankov, Andrei 5 March 2017 "Taste of strawberries" The Korea Times Retrieved 1 May 2017 
  8. ^ "It's not all doom and gloom in Pyongyang" Asia Times September 23, 2011 Retrieved October 9, 2011 
  9. ^ a b United Nations Development Program, Millennium Development Goals and the DPRK, retrieved 21 October 21, 2011, "Archived copy" Archived from the original on 2011-12-01 Retrieved 2013-05-15 
  10. ^ a b Woo-Cumings, Meredith 2002 The political ecology of famine: the North Korean catastrophe and its lessons Online at: http://personallseacuk/SIDEL/images/WooFaminepdf
  11. ^ Josephson, Paul R 25 December 2009 Would Trotsky Wear a Bluetooth: Technological Utopianism under Socialism, 1917–1989 Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press p 143 ISBN 978-0-8018-9841-9 
  12. ^ "Foreign Assistance to North Korea" PDF Congressional Research Service 
  13. ^ Coll, Steve "North Korea's Hunger" The New Yorker - Daily Comment Retrieved February 16, 2012 
  14. ^ "CIA World Fact Book" 
  15. ^ Václav Havel; Kjell Magne Bondevik; Elie Wiesel October 30, 2006 Failure to Protect - A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea PDF Report DLA Piper and US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea p 12 
  16. ^ "Mass Starvations in North Korea" North Korea Now Retrieved February 16, 2012 
  17. ^ Human Rights Watch 2006 "A matter of survival: the North Korean government's control of food and the risk of hunger" 18 3 Retrieved December 14, 2013 
  18. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook" Central Intelligence Agency 
  19. ^ Kate, Daniel Ten September 16, 2011 "North Korea's food shortages worsening, UN says" Bloomberg News Retrieved February 16, 2012 
  20. ^ Andrei, Lankov March 21, 2013 The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia ISBN 9780199975846 

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