ROME — North Korea increased its staple foods production for the second year in a row but its citizens are still suffering from a serious lack of key proteins and fats in their diets, a U.N. report said Monday.
A U.N. team visited all nine agricultural provinces of the communist state in September and October during the main cereal harvest and estimated that even with the increase — a 10 percent improvement over last year — North Korea will need to import 507,000 metric tons of cereals to meet its basic food needs.
North Korea has struggled for decades to feed its 24 million people. Its new leader, Kim Jong Un, has made improving the economy a priority and has pledged to improve North Koreans' standards of living.
In its eagerly anticipated report, the United Nations said it was concerned that North Korea's soybean production declined 30 percent and that there were limited vegetables available, meaning the chronic lack of proteins, oils, fats, vitamins, and micro-nutrients in the typical North Korean diet remains a problem.
"The new harvest figures are good news, but the lack of proteins and fats in the diet is alarming," Claudia von Roehl, the World Food Program's country director for North Korea, said in a statement.
The U.N. report proposed ways to improve the North Korea diet, saying farmers there need to produce more protein-rich foods like fish and soybeans.
The United Nations said household gardens could go a long way to providing a more diverse diet for ordinary North Koreans and that farmers should be allowed to sell their rice, corn and wheat at market.
North Korean farmers have recently mentioned that a proposed directive would allow them to sell or barter their surplus food at market, a move apparently aimed at boosting productivity on collective farms.
The report said overall production for the 2012-2013 early harvest was expected to be 5.8 million metric tons. The government has set a cereal import target of 300,000 metric tons.
Given the U.N. estimate that 507,000 metric tons of imported cereals are needed, the deficit is expected to be 207,000 metric tons, the lowest in many years, the statement said.
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