Agro Action Skeptical of Aid Plea

An NGO with a long history of giving agricultural assistance to North Korea has added weight to suggestions made by both South Korean officials and a number of inside North Korean sources; that the food situation in North Korea may not be as serious as recent reports and the North Korean government’s own claims suggest.

A representative for German Agro Action revealed the stance in comments made to Radio Free Asia yesterday, saying that while there are unquestionably food shortages in North Korea, there are also political reasons behind Pyongyang’s international drive to obtain aid and doubts about a recent UN report into conditions in the country, which called for 430,000 tons of urgent food aid for up to six million vulnerable people.

It is a stance borne out by the organization’s 2010 annual report, which states, “Conditions in North Korea have improved so much that people can again grow enough to eat, thanks to new seed varieties and agricultural extension.”

The representative added that rather than many thousands of Euros of food aid from European countries, North Korea would benefit far more from overall agricultural reform and better use of the land that it already has under cultivation, given that North Korea’s agricultural fragility is primarily a result of its own poor policy choices.

Elsewhere, British Ambassador to South Korea Martin Uden has revealed that Pyongyang markets were adequately stocked with food when he visited the city in early March, although with less variety than during a previous visit in 2008.

There was, Ambassador Uden explained in a blog posting, “Plenty of chicken of all sizes, both cooked and uncooked, and some duck. Large amounts of good-looking fish (don’t ask me what sort) and plentiful root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, radishes) but little green vegetable.”

“From the attention paid by the throngs of customers, I guess that the prices were within reach of their pockets,” he added, though with the caveat that markets in Pyongyang are likely to be in better shape than in other areas of the country beyond the reach of foreign diplomats.

While the controversy over the true situation continues, North Korea is set to receive some additional food aid from the international community, including pulses worth $1 million from the Indian government to be distributed through the World Food Programme.

In addition, a number of NGOs are continuing with planned provision, while a number more including Save the Children have put out a joint call for aid before North Korea’s annual spring shortages are amplified in April and May.