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North Korea


The task of increasing agricultural production beyond simple recovery from the Korean War was not easy. The country's sparse agricultural resources limit agricultural growth. Climate, terrain, and soil conditions are not particularly favorable for farming (see The Physical Environment , ch. 2). Only about 18 percent of the total landmass, or approximately 2.2 million hectares, is arable; the major portion of the country is rugged mountain terrain. The weather varies markedly according to elevation, and lack of precipitation, along with infertile soil, makes land at elevations higher than 400 meters unsuitable for purposes other than grazing. Precipitation is geographically and seasonally irregular, and in most parts of the country as much as half the annual rainfall occurs in the three summer months. This pattern favors the cultivation of paddy rice in warmer regions that are outfitted with irrigation and flood control networks. Where these conditions are lacking, however, farmers have to substitute other grains for the traditional favorite.

Farming is concentrated in the flatlands of the four west coast provinces, where a longer growing season, level land, adequate rainfall, and good, irrigated soil permit the most intensive cultivation of crops. A narrow strip of similarly fertile land runs through the eastern seaboard Hamgyng provinces and Kangwn Province, but the interior provinces of Chagang and Yanggang are too mountainous, cold, and dry to allow much farming. The mountains, however, contain the bulk of North Korea's forest reserves while the foothills within and between the major agricultural regions provide lands for livestock grazing and fruit tree cultivation.

Since self-sufficiency remains an important pillar of North Korean ideology, self-sufficiency in food production is deemed a worthy goal. Another aim of government policies--to reduce the "gap" between urban and rural living standards--requires continued investment in the agricultural sector. Finally, as in most countries, changes in the supply or prices of foodstuffs probably are the most conspicuous and sensitive economic concerns for the average citizen. The stability of the country depends on steady, if not rapid, increases in the availability of food items at reasonable prices. In the early 1990s, there also were reports of severe food shortages.

The most far-reaching statement on agricultural policy is embodied in Kim Il Sung's 1964 "Theses on the Socialist Agrarian Question in Our Country," which underscores the government's concern for agricultural development. Kim emphasized technological and educational progress in the countryside as well as collective forms of ownership and management. As industrialization progressed, the share of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in the total national output declined from 63.5 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively, in 1945 and 1946, to a low of 26.8 percent in 1990. Their share in the labor force also declined from 57.6 percent in 1960 to 34.4 percent in 1989.

Data as of June 1993