Food Insecurity in North Korea | Mission East

Food Insecurity in North Korea

Food Insecurity in North Korea

Since 2011, Mission East has carried out a number of food assistance interventions for almost 50,000 young children through kindergartens, nurseries, orphanages and paediatric hospitals in North Pyongan, Kangwon and South Hwanghae Provinces. This aid provided a more balanced diet for young children who are at a critical stage for growth. Inadequate nutrition at this age can cause stunted physical growth or psychological problems which can last a lifetime. Recent national nutrition surveys show that 28 per cent of all children in North Korea under five years old are chronically malnourished, resulting in stunted growth.

In 2012-2015, Mission East also responded to the devastating damage caused by flooding and typhoons stronger than have been experienced in most North Koreans' lifetime. Mission East re-built houses for those made homeless and is assisting with the reconstruction of damaged water systems.


Mission East is looking for opportunities to begin long-term projects which help to address some of the root-causes of food insecurity in North Korea. We also hope to bring our expertise in providing clean water and improving sanitation and hygiene conditions to the North Korean context.

North Korea’s agricultural production is vulnerable to shocks and fails to provide adequate food for the population. This is due to a number of factors, including a largely mountainous terrain which restricts the amount of arable land, frequent floods, droughts and insect damage, low agricultural diversity, inefficient agricultural practices, lack of mechanisation and fuel supply and limited access to external agricultural resources and funding. As a result, the government is reliant on food imports to meet the remaining need.

Around 18 million people (70 per cent of the total population) depend on the Public Distribution System and are considered chronically food insecure to varying degrees. It is estimated that 28 per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished or stunted. Diets lack variety, and most people lack adequate protein and vitamins in the food which is available to them. In the provinces with the poorest food supply, the rates of stunting have been assessed to be as high as 40 per cent, with 6 per cent of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Expected deterioration of food supplies for 2015-2016

The 2015 growing season in DPRK was disrupted by a prolonged dry period in the spring followed by a summer of poor rains and lower as usual irrigation levels. The drought was especially severe in 4 main agricultural provinces leading to a 20% reduction in crop production compared with 2014. The FAO estimated that the 2015 aggregated food production is 9 percent less than 2014. The production of paddy rice, the country’s main staple, dropped by 26 percent and the output of maize also decreased.

By contrast, the output of more drought-resistant minor crops, such as soybeans and other cereals, increased partially compensating for the reduced rice and maize crops.  Given the tight supplies, the food security situation in 2015/16 is expected to deteriorate from the past few years when most households were already estimated with poor or borderline food consumption. (see details in the April 2016 FAO Update DPRK Food Supply and Demand in 2015-16)