Despite the occurrence of drought in late spring, often followed by floods, the North Korean climate is temperate. Only 14 percent of the land is arable, however. North Korea has never been agriculturally self-sufficient. Agriculture is nevertheless a major contributor to the economy. In 1999, the sector accounted for 30 percent of GDP and employed 36 percent of the workforce (3.5 million workers). Rice, corn, potatoes,
North Korea's agriculture was collectivized in the 1950s and was fairly successful until the early 1990s. Modern techniques more than doubled the total harvest from 3.85 million tons in 1966 to 8.47 million tons in 1984. However, the sector's annual growth rate fell from 2.8 percent in 1991 to 1.5 percent in 1995. A misguided emphasis on rice and maize production led to over-cultivation and exhausted the soil. Ill-conceived terracing, a shortage of fertilizers, floods, and a drought contributed to a steep decline in yield during the 1990s, leading to widespread famine and deaths. Massive foreign aid halted the death rate and helped increase the land under cultivation in 1998 and 1999. Crop production rose to 4.62 million tons in 1999, but remained 1.1 million tons short of the minimum needed. The country survived on foreign assistance, which included 550,000 tons of rice from Japan in 2000.
North Korea needs large investments for the revival of its agriculture. Recent initiatives include aid from the United Nations Development Program for Agricultural Recovery and Environmental Protection, and the expansion of farmers' markets, which might stimulate growth by creating financial incentives for farmers. However, these measures still fall short of what is required.
There is little data on 2 important contributors to the North Korean economy: forestry and fishing. Such data as there is suggests that these activities are sufficient to satisfy domestic demand for lumber and fish and to supply exports. Fish products are exported to Japan and lumber to Russia. However, North Korea's annual catch declined in 2000 when fuel shortages grounded much of its fishing fleet.