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2007/06/05 10:55 KST
N. Korea's food situation not as bad as expected: agricultural scholar

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food situation is stabilizing and is not as bad as expected in rural areas, a South Korean agricultural scholar who just returned from Pyongyang said Tuesday.

   In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, Kwon Tae-jin, senior scholar of the state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute, said, "The peak of food shortage usually comes in June, but I didn't feel it probably because North Korea released food rations."
Kwon visited Pyongyang, Chongju in North Pyongan Province, Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province and Paechon in South Hwanghae Province, along with officials of World Vision, an international relief agency, May 25-31.

   In March, North Korean officials indicated that North Korea faced a shortfall of 1 million metric tons of food and asked the World Food Program (WFP) to expand its assistance.

   Jean-Pierre DeMargerie, head of the WFP's office in North Korea, said that the situation is not as bad as it was in the 1990s when about one million North Koreans are estimated to have died of hunger, but the food situation has again "started to deteriorate because of June and August flooding of critical cropland and major reductions in WFP and bilateral food assistance."
Kwon said North Korea would have little difficulty planting rice seedlings this year as reservoirs are full of water in most plains, and tractors and rice-planting machines can work at full capacity.
"In some areas the food situation might be worsening, but agricultural production has stabilized. They seem to be focusing on diversifying their sources of income by planting some cash crops," he said.

   A weak harvest in 2006, disastrous summer flooding and a 75 percent fall in donor assistance dealt severe blows to the impoverished nation, according to WFP officials.

   South Korea resumed shipments of fertilizer and emergency aid to the North, but it plans to withhold rice aid as an inducement for North Korea to fulfill its promise to shut down its main nuclear reactor as part of the landmark February 13 agreement.

   South Korea suspended its food and fertilizer aid to North Korea after the North conducted missile tests in July. Resumption of the aid was blocked due to the North's nuclear bomb test in October.

   According to a recent think tank report, North Korea could run short of up to one third of the food it needs this year if South Korea and other countries withhold aid.

   Data from the WFP and South Korea's Unification Ministry show that the North will need between 5.24 million tons and 6.47 million tons of food this year. Depending on the weather, the availability of fertilizer and other factors, the communist state may only be able to produce 4.3 million tons of food by itself, the report said.

   ssj@yna.co.kr
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