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Malnutrition still rife in N Korea in spite of increased crop yield

By RJ Whitehead , 13-Nov-2012
Last updated on 15-Nov-2012 at 10:45 GMT

North Korea might have seen its second increase in staple food production in as many year, but nearly 3m of its population are still undernourished, according to UN figures.

The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, conducted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), found that overall production for the main 2012 harvest and 2013 early season crops is expected to be 5.8m tonnes, an improvement of 10% over last year.

"This, however, should not mask an ongoing struggle with under-nutrition and a lack of vital protein and fat in the diet, especially for an estimated 2.8m vulnerable people," the agencies stated in a joint statement.

Soybean shortage

The mission, which visited all nine North Korean agricultural provinces during the main annual cereal harvest, was particularly concerned by a 30% decline in soybean production. It also noted the limited quantity of vegetables available, perpetuating a chronic lack of key proteins, oils, fats, vitamins and micronutrients in most diets.

The assessment mission subsequently found that the country needs to import over 500,000 tonnes of cereals to meet its basic food needs. Even if the government's cereal import target of 300,000 tonnes is met, this would still leave a staple food deficit of over 200,000 tonnes—the lowest in many years.

"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 FAO economist, Kisan Gunjal.

Growing their own

Gunjal also recommended household vegetable gardens to help improve nutrition, as well as changes to the agricultural marketing system to allow farmers to sell their rice, maize and wheat at market. 

"This assessment has shown how vital it is that our programme continues to reach over 1m children in nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools with predictable and adequate supplies," said WFP's country director for North Korea, Claudia von Roehl.

"The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming," she added. "We must double our efforts to reach 2m children with a steady stream of nutritious foods, and so provide a more balanced, healthy diet." 

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