The recent dry spell on the Korean Peninsula has had a significant impact on annual early crop. Recently released government data indicates that at just over 207,000 metric tons, it is 40 percent down on last year. WFP DPRK Country Director Claudia von Roehl recently visited some farms in the affected area and this is what she saw.
The chairman of Sokdam cooperative farm showed me what they have been able to harvest. They looked no larger than cherries, but they were in fact potatoes. Too small to eat – and useful only as seeds for the next cycle of planting.
The Korean Peninsula has been experiencing one of the most severe dry spells in living memory. In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where almost all the agriculture is rain-fed, the impact on the early crop (mainly potatoes, wheat and barley) has been severe – the government reports that it is 40 percent down on last year.
Although the early crop is only 10 percent of national production, it comes at a crucial time as the annual lean season months – when food supplies are at their lowest in DPRK – begin to bite. And perhaps more worryingly, there are now concerns for the main maize harvest later in the year.
On the same farm in Ryongchon country over a 1,000 hectares of land has been put aside for maize, but the fields are not irrigated, and this year the rains simply failed to arrive. Farmers from the surrounding area have been mobilised to help water the seedbeds and encourage the transplanted maize seedlings to grow, carrying water in whatever vessels they could find, but many of the plants have withered and died. We passed field after field where the maize plants were just 50 centimetres tall – normally by this time of the year they should be three times that, and starting to sprout ears of corn.
All is not lost, if the rains do come late. Maize requires about 145 days to mature in the ground, meaning the seeds planted now will be ready for harvesting in November. This is a month later than usual, and the fear is that the crops will at that point be at risk of damage from the first frosts of Korea’s bitter winter. If this were to happen, the maize could still be used as cattle fodder, but not for human consumption.
At another farm in nearby Pyoksong county, the farmers showed us their rice paddies, and explained how this year the weather was playing havoc even with the rice crop. Rice needs rain, then sun for germination. This year there was no rain, but a permanent sun. Only recently have rains arrived. No one is really sure how the final crop will fare later in the year.
While efforts are being made to modernise agricultural techniques in DPRK, the lack of irrigation and other modern farming inputs mean that the country remains in a precarious situation each year, dependent on the rain to fall, at the right time, in the right amounts.