In May 2012, the UN published an overview of needs and assistance for the DPRK.
In the report, the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM)
…estimated in October 2011 the total cereal import requirement in 2011/12 at 739,000 metric tons. Compared to previous years, the food gap has narrowed this year as the expected production was about 8.5 per cent higher than in 2010/11 reflecting higher plantings and yields. But it still remains at a significantly high level. Against planned commercial imports of 325,000, the uncovered deficit is 414,000 metric tons, equivalent to two months of PDS rations for the entire country. Given the low probability of receiving increased international or bilateral food assistance, commercial imports should be increased substantially to reduce the food gap
However, according to Kwon Tae-jin, a research fellow at the Seoul-based Korea Rural Community Corp., between January and November 2012, North Korea’s grain imports from its neighboring countries reached only 257,931 tons. There is a slight discrepancy in time since the CFSAM collects data from November to October of the next year; nonetheless, by North Korea’s own admission, Pyongyang imported less grains in 2012 than expected.
North Korean sources claim that the significantly decreased grain and fertilizer imports from China in 2012 was due to “improvements in overall food conditions in the country.”
This claim is backed up by the CFSAM assessment in November 2012 which estimated that North Korea’s cereal import requirement for 2012/13 year was 507,000 metric tons, much lower than the 739,000 metric tons calculated for 2011/12. In addition, the CFSAM decreased the target import to 300,000, bringing the uncovered food deficit for the 2012/13 marketing year down to 207 000 metric tonnes, more than half of what is was for 2011/12.
It is possible that the estimates are skewed by under/unreported food aid from China – 2012 was a potentially volatile year and Beijing may have felt compelled to bolster conditions in North Korea through increased assistance.
However, if the data is correct and there were no unnaturally large transfers of aid, the assessment for 2012/13 suggests that the country is capable of adding 232,000 metric tons to its agricultural output compared to 2011/12. An astounding achievement.
Perhaps the more important question is how North Korea managed to increase productivity without increasing import of key inputs (fuel, fertilizer, etc.) from abroad. Perhaps there was an incentive bump driven by expectations of Pyongyang implementing the June 28 Policy, but internal sources suggest that there was very little faith in the government to warrant increased productivity.
Without concrete evidence of how North Koreans increased agricultural productivity, the findings of both the CFSAM and Pyongyang should be deemed unsubstantiated.
More to come.