(April 2013) Food is always scarce in North Korea. This is due to the cold winters, dry soils, drought periods alternating with heavy rainfall. The past winter was particularly severe: Most of the potato seed, which is stored in simple and non-insulated warehouses, froze in the double-digit minus temperatures. Hence even fewer potatoes were planted in the spring than usual.
Every loss of agricultural foodstuff is tragic for North Korea: Only a small part of the country - 20 percent - can be used for agricultural purposes, while the rest consists of mountains and hills that are difficult to access. These bad conditions mean that people are facing permanent food shortages. More than 400,000 tonnes of additional food would have had to be planted every year to ensure enough food for everyone.
The staple food rice
North Korea's main food is rice. It is harvested only once per year, in October. The harvest is stored by agricultural production cooperatives and gradually distributed to the public. In May, and no later than June, all stocks are depleted, and there are food shortages until the next rice harvest.
Welthungerhilfe fights against these food shortages: Together with the farmers, the organisation is planting potatoes, wheat and cereals as an alternative to rice. New potatoes and wheat are harvested in June, hence exactly when rice stocks are nearing their end. Once the potatoes have been harvested, the fields are seeded with maize or cabbage.
This way, the scarce agricultural area can be cultivated twice per year. New and more weather-resistant potato warehouses are built to ensure that a part of the potato harvest is stored as future seed stock without losses - and that it can withstand another cold winter. With respect to the cultivation of potatoes, Welthungerhilfe works closely with the North Korean agriculture ministry and agricultural production cooperatives.
The aid measures are financially supported by the foundation UP MICRO LOANS and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).