North’s harvest rebounded from drought last year

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North’s harvest rebounded from drought last year

North Korea’s production of food crops reached 5.96 million tons from October 2016 to this June, 10 percent higher than the year before, when the country suffered a severe drought, according to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But the agency projected total output to dip again later this year due to an even worse dry spell that started in April, which has acutely constrained planting for the main season.

The FAO said Tuesday that the provinces of South and North Pyongan as well as South and North Hwanghae, which collectively account for nearly two-thirds of North Korea’s cereal production, were the most seriously hit this year.

About 50,000 hectares of cropland have been affected by the dry spell, said the group, including 30,000 hectares of paddy fields and 20,000 hectares of maize. Spring potatoes and soybeans will also be seriously impacted by the drought, the FAO added.

Last year’s food production was good because the main season, from September to October, yielded 5.44 million tons of rice, other cereals, soybeans and potatoes, a 14 percent rebound from the drought-plagued 2015.

North Korea’s paddy output last year, nearly 2.54 million tons, was a 30 percent recovery from the year before. But it was still well below the output between 2012 and 2014.

“Given the dependence on national cereal production,” the FAO said in reference to North Korea, “the drop in the 2016-17 early season output worsened the food insecurity for a large proportion of the population.”

With expectations of reduced production from the main 2017 season crop, the FAO warned that North Korea’s food security situation is likely to deteriorate in the next assessment.

The FAO’s report on North Korea’s food crisis came shortly after a China-based tour agency that specializes in North Korean tours announced a last-minute cancellation of the regime’s second Taedonggang Beer Festival, which was to take place in Pyongyang from yesterday through the end of August.

The tour agency that broke the news on Sunday said the reason for cancellation was unclear, but that it was “possibly due to the country’s ongoing drought, which has caused a great deal of trouble.”

Commenting on the fact that North Korea promoted the festival as recently as last week through its state-run media, a South Korean government official said Pyongyang could have called it off due to Washington’s latest decision to ban its citizens from traveling to the North, which might lead other foreign governments to take similar measures and ultimately affect ticket sales. The beer event had been a boon for the cash-starved regime.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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