October 5, 2005

N.Korea planning to ration foodgrains -UN official

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea might stop the sale of
foodgrains on the open market and return to a rationing system
where the staple will only be provided through distribution
centers, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Programme said.

The move comes after the impoverished state said it no
longer wanted direct emergency food handouts from aid agencies
and was looking to build a more self-sufficient food sector.

Analysts have said a rationing system set by the government
for foodgrains would also help strengthen the hand of
Pyongyang's leaders.

"Our understanding is that later this month, product
trading in grains will no longer be allowed," Gerald Bourke, a
spokesman for the WFP based in Beijing, said on Wednesday.

The buying and selling of grains such as rice at markets
was part of economic liberalization measures rolled out in

The WFP has said that prices of staples such as rice had
increased since then, making it harder for North Korea's poor
to buy basic foodstuffs.

"Since 2002, the distance between the have and the
have-nots in North Korea has grown larger," Bourke said by

"The change in the grain market being implemented seems to
be aimed at making it easier for those who suffered most in the
market reforms to be better taken care of," Bourke said.

North Korea provides a daily ration now of about 250 grams
of grain, or less than two bowls of rice, with its citizens
using their own money to buy more staples at the market.

Bourke said the daily grain ration might increase to about
500 grams to 700 grams a day.

North Korea's severe food shortage has eased with the help
of a good harvest this year but international aid is still
needed because the country does not produce enough to feed
itself, the U.N. agency said in a recent report.

Bourke said the move toward rationing was part of North
Korean efforts to rely less on handouts and more on itself to
feed its population.

North Korea indicated in September it wanted all
humanitarian food assistance from international agencies to
stop by the end of this year, aid agency officials said.

The North will still accept direct aid from South Korea,
which provides its neighbor with massive amounts of rice with
far fewer monitoring visits than the WFP.

More than one million North Koreans are thought to have
died in a famine in the mid-1990s triggered by bad harvests,
flooding and mismanagement of the agricultural sector.