Rice prices in North Korean markets have fallen dramatically after the authorities increased levels of food distribution in major urban areas like Pyongyang and Sinuiju, part of state policy of “normalizing” public distribution. Most people are undecided about the policy, but the reality is that grain has been provided by the state both last month and into this, and this is having an effect on market grain prices.
A Pyongyang source told Daily NK on the 21st, “There was five days of distribution in the first part of last month and ten days in the last part, then a further five days at the start of this month, so rice prices fell. The authorities are saying that they are going to give ten days of distribution per month until September, then normalize it completely after that.”
Ten days of distribution at North Korea’s own mandated levels means 4.5kg for workers and a further 2kg for dependent family members.
“When they first heard about [the policy of distribution normalization] they didn’t believe it, but after getting fifteen days distribution last month and another five days this, people are wondering whether this time it could be different,” the source said. “Even last month most people said ‘this will only last for this month,’ but now they have done it this month as well the number of expectant people is rising.”
The source also revealed data on the drop in market grain prices, saying that at one point the price of rice in Pyongyang had declined from 6500-7000won/kg, the approximate price point since the start of the year, to 4500won. “Although it has since climbed back up through the 5000won barrier, it is holding steady,” she added.
However, “From the middle part of April the price started slowly rising again,” she went on, conjecturing, “If distribution is achieved next month as well then it should stay below 6000won, perhaps even staying at around 4000-5000won.”
Aware that Pyongyang is a unique case in the North Korean context, Daily NK has also been checking conditions in other parts of the country, including along the Sino-North Korean border, and has learned that there has been distribution in the North Pyongan Province city of Sinuiju, the Yangkang Province city of Hyesan, and Heoiryeong and Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province, raising the possibility, which sources have echoed, that distribution is occurring nationwide. All the areas checked by Daily NK have also seen rice prices falling sharply thanks to the state distribution.
One Sinuiju-based source explained the situation there, saying, “As far as I know, the official policy of normalizing distribution is not just for our region but all other regions, too. They recently gave us ten days of rice here, so the price in the jangmadang (market) has fallen below 5000won.”
Sources report that between April 14 and 17 the price of rice has fallen to 5400won in Hyesan, 5100won in Hoiryeong, 5200won in Chongjin, and 5000won in Saebyeol County.
A source from Chongjin explained, “On or around April 10th it was selling for 4800won, but has since gone back over 5000won. They have given distribution but exchange rates are not falling, so if distribution ceases at any point, prices will have to rise again.” The same source noted, however, that in Hyesan prices fell, but when the authorities then stopped importing rice from China, they rose again, reaching 6400won. “Rumor has it that they will allow imports again,” the source noted, “but nobody knows when so prices remain high.”