Food In the Sustainable Development Goals: Great Ideas, But What About Demand?

The finalized text for the Sustainable Development Goals was published on August 1st. I was curious to see what it had to say on sustainable food and agricultural systems. I summarize my thoughts below for a quick impression; thereafter you can find a blow-by-blow list of all instances where the SDGs mention food or agriculture … Continue reading Food In the Sustainable Development Goals: Great Ideas, But What About Demand?

10 Facts About Food (Shortages) in North Korea

Think of “food” and “North Korea” and chances are you will be reminded of the near-yearly news items speaking of hunger, starvation, and malnutrition in the country. However, times might be changing, at least if you believe Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean Studies at Seoul University. In this Al Jazeera piece, he argues that the “myth of starvation” is over due to the moderate economic growth in the country driven by semi-legal private enterprises starting to bloom. Yet, the situation of the current food system is still dire and stuck between the bizarre and the fascinating in this neo-Stalinist state. Inspired by Lankov’s article, here are 10 facts about food (shortages) in North Korea you might not know:

1. According to Lankov, “this year, North Korea enjoyed an exceptionally good harvest, which for the first time in more than two decades will be sufficient to feed the country’s entire population. Indeed, according to the recent documents of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), North Korea’s harvest totaled 5.03 million tonnes of grain this year, if converted to the cereal equivalent. To put things in perspective, in the famine years of the late 1990s, the average annual harvest was estimated (by the same FAO) to be below the 3 million tonne level.

2. However, the WFP and FAO estimate that despite the 3-year improvements in food production, there are still shortages particularly for protein-rich foods, and child malnutrition remains widespread, said the Wall Street Journal in November of last year. 84% of the population’s households were estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption.

Image via Flickr-user yeowatzup, who commented: Situated on the outskirts of Wonsan, the Chonsam Cooperative Farm is possibly the only place in the country where foreign visitors are allowed into a working farm. While it is indeed a working farm, it does feel a little bit contrived. (Flickr CC)

3. One of the main reasons for the ongoing problems is a combination of outdated farming practices and a lack of access to agricultural inputs such as fertilizers due to international trade sanctions. This account of a North Korean farmer-turned-emigrant is fascinating (though sad) in describing farming conditions reminiscent of the early 20th century: “As North Koreans do not have good equipment or much fertilizer, we got used to doing most of the work by hand rather than with the help of machinery. In spring when weeds bagan to sprout it would be time to plough the fields and this could be done by ox or with tractors. But in North Korea, in addition to fuel being too expensive, there aren’t many tractors for the farmers to use, so most of the ploughing is done by oxen. As you can probably guess, the oxen were therefore very valuable animals, and we needed to keep them healthy for the entire year’s farming work. While oxen could help plough the fields, they were useless at dealing with weeds. So when new weeds appeared in the fields again, they had to be removed by hand because the chemicals we had were not sufficient. Between spring and autumn, we did back breaking work,  weeding the field about four times with a hoe. Not wanting to waste even the weeds, we also used a sickle to cut them down to make compost with them. This compost helped make the soil better, so every summer or autumn we made compost after doing the weeding.” It also serves as a good reminder that the mechanization of agriculture has, indeed, had a massively beneficial impact on farmers’ lives, despite the calls to go back towards a more natural way of farming…

Continue reading “10 Facts About Food (Shortages) in North Korea”

Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s Celebrate with a Women In Agriculture Link Roundup!

The celebrations surrounding today’s International Women’s Day have given rise to a number of great resources recognizing the importance of women in agriculture. Instead of writing my own contribution, I thought I’d give you a handy link roundup for your surfing and perusal pleasure – have fun! From Food Tank: 23 Women Changing Food. Is … Continue reading Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s Celebrate with a Women In Agriculture Link Roundup!