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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: Food Update

by | May 2nd, 2014 | 07:00 am

We close the week with a series of stories and sources on recent developments on the food front.

The World Food Program is coming up on the last quarter of the first year of its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation launched in July 2013. The two-year project aspired to reach about 2.4 million people, mainly children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. The program targeted households in 87 counties with about 205,000MT of food; total cost of the program was roughly $200 million. A central component of the project has been 14 food production factories making fortified biscuits and Super Cereal for Children.

For some time, it has been an open secret in the aid community that the program has struggled with inadequate contributions; the last quarterly report available, covering October-December of last year showed an expected post-harvest improvement in the food consumption of surveyed households. However, although the program reached 88 percent of eligible beneficiaries in the quarter, it did so with food rations that were only 39 percent of those planned.

Last week, the AP covered a draft WFP report detailing current conditions in the country and the funding shortfall. To meet the program targets, the WFP would need about $8 million a month, but contributions from major country donors have basically evaporated and it is currently running the program on about $3 million a month, we suspect funded out of discretionary UN money. This is only enough resources to provide key food assistance until June. Five of seven factories producing high-nutrient biscuits were closed in March because of breaks in the pipeline.

The constraints on the WFP come as “lean season” stories are also trickling out of the country; the DailyNK from last week is exemplary. The reports suggest declining rations outside Pyongyang, after a two-year period when they had generally increased, including through reported release of military stocks last spring.

The price data provided by DailyNK would not seem to support a distress story; prices have been falling steadily since the first of the year. But this is belied by looking at the exchange rate. After strengthening in March, the won appears to be weakening again, suggesting rising dollar prices for food.

We recently reported on a return of foot and mouth disease to the country in February, starting on pig farms and then spreading to cattle. But a second livestock problem hit the country in March; an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu; the development of this outbreak is tracked well here.

Finally, we are always on the lookout for bunk. Although the story of Kim Jong Un sending a delegation to France to study the production of Emmental had the makings of a “not satire” story, the French institute purportedly hosting this visit has denied it is taking place.

Next week: the WFP has released an internal audit of its operations in North Korea. The document provides interesting detail on the difficulty of conducting humanitarian operations in the country, and we will provide a more detailed read-out.